Differences between MCBS PUF and LDS Data Files

Differences between MCBS PUF and LDS Data Files

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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.


This article is designed to provide a brief overview of the differences between the MCBS PUF* and MCBS LDS* files so researchers can decide which file is appropriate for their study needs.  


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.


  Table 1. Difference between MCBS PUF and LDS


MCBS Public Use File

MCBS Limited Data Sets

Beneficiary Identification number


Yes-Base ID


Community Dwelling

Community and Facility

Charge and Payment Data Variables



Demographic Variables



Insurance Coverage Information

Geographic Identifiers

Modules Available




Access to Care



Yes-Zip Code

Access to Care and Cost & Use

$600/Module per year






*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.

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This work was performed under CMS Contract Number HHSM-500-2015-00558G
Related Data File Families: