Assessment of Major Federal Data Sets for Analyses of Hispanic and Asian or Pacific Islander Subgroups and Native Americans: Inventory of Selected Existing Federal Databases. Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey (MCBS)


Sponsoring agency

Health Care Financing Administration
Department of Health and Human Services


Reference date

Early 1998


The Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey (MCBS) is a continuous, multipurpose survey of a representative national sample of 16,000 beneficiaries, representing the Medicare population. The objective of the study is to determine expenditures and sources of payment for all services used by Medicare beneficiaries, including co-payments, deductibles, and noncovered services; to ascertain all types of health insurance coverage and relate coverage to sources of payments; and to trace processes over time, such as changes in health status, spending down to Medicaid eligibility, and the impacts of program changes.

MCBS covers the entire Medicare population, whether aged or disabled, living in the community or in institutions; oversampling selected age groups; and following and reinterviewing the sample to obtain a continuous longitudinal picture. Other features include collecting a wide variety of data on each sample person, including topical supplements; combining survey and administrative data; and being able to retrieve data to respond to urgent Medicare policy issues. Sampled beneficiaries are interviewed in person three times a year through the use of CAPI, over a 4-year period. The study was initiated in late 1991.


Historically, the survey asked about race in five large groups--White, Black or Afro-American, Asian or Pacific Islander, American Indian, and Other. This was followed by a single question on Hispanic/Latino ethnicity. Beginning in Fall 1998, however, the questions were revised, consistent with the current OMB guidelines, as follows:

  • The next two questions are about ethnicity and race. Are (you) of Hispanic or Latino origin?
    Don't Know

    Looking at this card, what is (your) race?
    (Code all that apply)

    • American Indian or Alaska Native
      Black or African American
      Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander
      Another Race (specify)

Interviewing policy

The interviewing staff includes resident, bilingual interviewers, especially in highly concentrated Spanish-speaking populated areas, such as California, Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico. The basic questionnaire is available in Spanish in hardcopy form, which is used as a guide, with responses entered into the CAPI instrument, which appears only in English. An item at the end of the interview captures whether the interview was conducted in Spanish. When the necessary language skills are not immediately available, translators are obtained. Experience has shown that the need for language skills other than Spanish is quite limited.

Sample size

The sample sizes shown in Appendix Tables A-1 to A-3 are for Medicare beneficiaries as of early 1998, and cover all ages. However, sampling rates vary by age, with overrepresentation of the disabled (generally those under 65 years of age) and the oldest-old (85 or more years of age).

Publications of data for Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans

There are no separate publications by race. A number of the regular reports contain distributions and cross classification by the major groups. Public use files are released regularly; the collected race/ethnic detail is available on the files.

Revised race/ethnic definitions

Consideration has not yet been given to any further revision of the race/ethnic standards, consistent with the revised OMB standards, in order to provide additional subpopulation detail.

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