Are people who claim their Social Security retirement benefits when they’re 62 too sick or impaired to work?
Fast forward three years, to when these early claimers turn 65. They’re about as healthy as those who decided to wait until age 65 to start receiving their Social Security retirement benefits, according to preliminary findings from a study using Medicare spending data as a proxy for health. The early claimers are also far healthier than people who left the labor force early to go on federal disability.
Some 8,500 older Americans were in the study’s sample, and they fell into four different groups: those who claimed a reduced Social Security pension soon after turning 62; those who claimed a larger pension at 65; those who were awarded a Social Security disability benefit before turning 62; and those who applied for disability but were denied and then claimed their retirement benefit after age 62.
The researchers, from the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University, examined Medicare claims from 1991 through 2008 for the four groups during the year following their 65th birthdays. They found no evidence of persistent health problems that would have kept the 62-year-olds from continuing to work for a few more years.
Controlling for race, sex, education and other factors that have a bearing on health, the $287 annual difference in Medicare claims between people who started receiving retirement benefits at 62 and at 65 was not significant. Similarly, the healthcare spending of people who received disability benefits and those who were rejected was virtually the same.
But there was a large gap between the group who claimed a retirement benefit at 62 and the group on disability: Medicare claims for disability recipients were $4,400 more annually than the claims for early pensioners.
It’s important to note that this analysis doesn’t capture any differences in healthcare spending that may’ve occurred prior to age 65. That’s the age of Medicare eligibility for everyone in the sample except those who qualified for Medicare sometime prior to turning 62, because they were receiving Social Security disability benefits.
When the researchers repeated the analysis using Medicare claims at age 70, however, the story was the same: poor health seems to play a fairly small role in the decision about when to claim Social Security retirement benefits.
Full disclosure: The research cited in this post was funded by a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) through the Retirement Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the blog’s author and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA or any agency of the federal government.
Boston College Center for Retirement Research