Differences between MCBS PUF and LDS Data Files


This article is designed to provide a brief overview of the differences between the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey (MCBS) Public Use File (PUF) and MCBS Limited Data Set (LDS) files so researchers can decide which file is appropriate for their study needs.

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The MCBS is a robust, nationally representative sample of Medicare beneficiaries that combines survey and administrative records to provide a comprehensive look at a beneficiary’s health status, eligibility, expenditures, sources of payment and satisfaction with care. MCBS is available as both a Public Use File (PUF)and Limited Data Set (LDS). The PUF file is available for download from the CMS website. Information on how to order the LDS file is on this CMS web page.

MCBS LDS datasets have two modules including Access to Care, which is available starting with year 1991 and Cost and Use, which is available starting with year 1992. The datasets incur a cost and can be obtained by completing an LDS DUA. The Access to Care module contains information on beneficiaries’ access to health care, satisfaction with care and usual source of care. The Cost and Use Module contain complete expenditure and source of payment data on all health care services.  This module combines survey and claims data indicating health services received, amounts paid and sources of payment for services paid by the Medicare program.

The MCBS PUF is easy to use and enables researchers to study a variety of topics including satisfaction of care and medical conditions for community dwelling beneficiaries. It includes information on eligibility, outcomes, spending, health status and expenditures and is a free data set. This file only contains Access to care information and begins with 2013 data.

MCBS Public Use File MCBS Limited Data Sets
Beneficiary Identification number Yes-PUF ID Yes-Base ID
Population Community Dwelling Community and Facility
Charge and Payment Data Variables No Yes
Demographic Variables Yes Yes
Insurance Coverage Information Yes-Annual Yes-Monthly
Geographic Indicators No Yes-Zip Code
Modules Available Access to Care Access to Care and Cost & Use
Cost Free $600/Module per year
Table 1. Difference between MCBS PUF and LDS

*Public Use File (PUF), also called Non-Identifiable Data Files, have been edited and stripped of all information that could be used to identify individuals.

*Limited Data Set (LDS) files contain beneficiary level protected health information and require a Data Use Agreement. The DUA-Limited Data Set page on the CMS website describes the request process and the ways in which the LDS files may be used.