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Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey (MCBS)


    • Owner / manager
    • Study and sample characteristics
    • Major foci
    • Special supplements and resources
    • Links to other datasets
    • Papers published
    • Dataset accessibility and cost
    • Help desk


Key web links

Home page


Brief description of data files:

Information on how to request data from CMS: 

Dataset Summary

MCBS is a nationally-representative panel survey of both institutionalized and non-institutionalized Medicare beneficiaries that has been occurring since 1991.  Data is obtained from multiple in-person interviews and through linkage to Medicare claims files.  For each participant, data is collected for a period of four years (as participants complete and exit the survey, new ones are enrolled) with a rotating cohort design.  The data focuses on health status, health care use and expenditures, health insurance coverage, and socioeconomic and demographic characteristics, but include a wide range of other information as well.  Data is available for a relatively modest cost after an application process.
Expert comments
MCBS is a rich resource for studies focused on the representative Medicare population.  Its linkage of self-reported information including comorbid conditions, height and weight, and physical functioning to Medicare claims data allows for a broad scope of use.  Different years of data can be merged to enhance the analytic sample, although each module has its own sampling weights that must be used to produce accurate estimates.

Dataset Details

Dataset owner / manager

Sponsored by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The Research Data Assistance Center (ResDAC) is available to provide assistance and answer questions.

Study and sample characteristics

Nationally representative survey of Medicare beneficiaries from 1991-2006.  Data is collected using a panel methodology, where patients are recruited and followed with 12 interviews over a 4-year period, with successive waves of patients entering and exiting the study.  Each fall approximately one-quarter of the sample is retired and 4000 new respondents are added to maintain a stable sample size of approximately 16,000 respondents.  Interviews are conducted in-person.  Both institutionalized and non-institutionalized Medicare beneficiaries are included, and subjects with the full range of eligibility criteria for Medicare are represented.  The oldest old and people eligible for Medicare due to disability are oversampled.

Major foci

MCBS contains two types of files, each of which include both patient survey data and linked data from Medicare claims.
The MCBS Access to Care files include information on Medicare beneficiaries’ usual sources of care, satisfaction with care, and access to care, with linked claims data from the Medicare fee-for-service program to provide additional information on the use and cost of Medicare services.

The MCBS Cost and Use files also include both survey data and linked claims data from Medicare.  The focus of this file is to provide data on expenditures and sources of payment on all health care services, both inside and outside of the Medicare program.  As noted on the MCBS website, “survey-reported data include information on the use and cost of all types of medical services, as well as information on supplementary health insurance, living arrangements, income, health status, and physical functioning. Medicare claims data includes use and cost information on inpatient hospitalizations, outpatient hospital care, physician services, home health care, durable medical equipment, skilled nursing home services, hospice care, and other medical services.”


Detailed information on variables provided each year can be found at the following links.  Note that there are hundreds of questionnaires, reflecting multiple questionnaires per year and multiple years of the survey. 

To provide a sense of the data available, questionnaires from the most recent published year (2006) include the following:

Information obtained from Medicare beneficiaries in facilities (e.g. nursing homes)
•    Background / Demographics
•    Use of Services
•    Residence History
•    Prescribed Medicines
•    Expenditures
•    Health Status
•    Health Insurance

Information on community-dwelling Medicare beneficiaries:
•    Usual Source of Care
•    Satisfaction with Care
•    Provider Probes/Access to Care
•    Housing Characteristics
•    Health Status and Functioning
•    Demographics/Income
•    Contact Information for HA
•    Utilization Summary
•    Prescribed Medicine Utilization
•    Prescribed Medicine Summary
•    Outpatient Hospital Utilization and Events
•    Other Medical Expenses Utilization
•    Medical Provider Utilization and Events
•    Interviewer Remarks Questionnaire
•    Institutional Utilization
•    Inpatient Hospital Utilizaiton and Events
•    Home Health Utilization Summary
•    Home Health Utilization and Events
•    Health Insurance
•    Emergency Room Utilization and Events
•    Discount/Savings Membership
•    Dental Utilization and Events
•    Charge/Payment Summary and Questions

•    Prescription Drug Coverage
•    Knowledge and Information Needs
•    Patient Activation

Special supplements and resources

Various supplements are available for different years.  For example, in recent years supplements are available about prescription drug coverage, patient activation, and knowledge and information needs about the Medicare Program. 

See: (search for keyword “supplement”)

Links to other datasets

As noted above, MCBS contains internal linkages that merge survey and claims data for the same Medicare beneficiaries.

Papers published

Click here for a PubMed search for articles using this dataset.

An incomplete bibliography of MCBS publications can be found at:

Sample papers published using MCBS include:

Cost-related medication nonadherence and spending on basic needs following implementation of Medicare Part D.
Madden JM, Graves AJ, Zhang F, Adams AS, Briesacher BA, Ross-Degnan D, Gurwitz JH, Pierre-Jacques M, Safran DG, Adler GS, Soumerai SB.
JAMA. 2008 Apr 23;299(16):1922-8.

Frailty predicts some but not all adverse outcomes in older adults discharged from the emergency department.
Hastings SN, Purser JL, Johnson KS, Sloane RJ, Whitson HE.
J Am Geriatr Soc. 2008 Sep;56(9):1651-7.

Racial and ethnic disparities in the treatment of dementia among Medicare beneficiaries.
Zuckerman IH, Ryder PT, Simoni-Wastila L, Shaffer T, Sato M, Zhao L, Stuart B.
J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2008 Sep;63(5):S328-33.

Hidden in plain sight: medical visit companions as a resource for vulnerable older adults.
Wolff JL, Roter DL.
Arch Intern Med. 2008 Jul 14;168(13):1409-15.

Medicare beneficiaries and free prescription drug samples: a national survey.
Tjia J, Briesacher BA, Soumerai SB, Pierre-Jacques M, Zhang F, Ross-Degnan D, Gurwitz JH.
J Gen Intern Med. 2008 Jun;23(6):709-14.

Dataset accessibility and cost

Data files are on CD-ROM at a cost of $600 per file per year (there are 2 main files per year)

To request data, the investigator must submit a data request packet:


Help Desk

Research Data Assistance Center
1-888-9RESDAC (1-888-973-7322)

Request a consultation (SGIM members only)

 Members of SGIM may request a one-time consultation with an expert in this dataset, for example, to explore research ideas or to troubleshoot a problem or vexing question.  Please click here for guidelines and the request process.