Patterns of Health Care Use Among Rural-Urban Medicare Beneficiaries Age 85 and Older, 2010-2017


Using the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey 2010-2013 Cost and Use and 2015-2017 Cost Supplement Files, this study examines whether and how rural and urban Medicare beneficiaries age 85+ differ in terms of their:

  1. socioeconomic and health characteristics that may inform health care use;
  2. trends in health care use, including use of inpatient and emergency department (ED) care; outpatient and prescription services; specialists and dentists; and home health and durable medical equipment.

Although the percentage of older adults (age 65+) remains higher in rural areas of the U.S., this study found that adults over age 85 comprise a similar proportion of the Medicare population in rural and urban areas. Findings showed that rural and urban beneficiaries age 85+ had similar health (general health, chronic conditions) and functional outcomes (activities of daily living and instrumental activities of daily living) across the study years and that the average number of visits to primary care providers for both rural and urban beneficiaries decreased over time. However, compared with urban beneficiaries, rural beneficiaries were significantly less likely to visit specialists, dentists, and receive outpatient services. Rural-urban differences in the percentage of beneficiaries who visited the ED were higher in all study years, with significant differences in 2011, 2012, and 2017.

Maine Rural Health Research Center
Yvonne Jonk, Heidi O'Connor, Amanda Burgess, Carly Milkowski