Wedescribe a method for the development of cohorts of up to three quarters of the 14 million married couples aged 65 and over in the United States. The health care experiences, illness histories, and mortality of these identified couples can be assessed longitudinally using Medicare data. We summarize strengths and limitations of using data from Medicare administrative records for the study of marriage, health, and aging. We illustrate the method by demonstrating substantial differences in survival in a cohort of hospice patients as a function of not only the patient's own diagnosis and illness burden but also the patient's spouse's illness burden.

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