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Unhealthy Insurance Markets: Search Frictions and the Cost and Quality of Health Insurance

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  • Randall D. Cebul
  • James B. Rebitzer
  • Lowell J. Taylor
  • Mark E. Votruba

Abstract

We analyze the role of search frictions in the market for commercial health insurance. Frictions increase the cost of insurance by enabling insurers to set price above marginal cost, and by creating incentives for inefficiently high levels of marketing. Frictions also lead to price dispersion for identical products and, as a consequence, to increases in the rate of insurance turnover. Our empirical analysis indicates that frictions increase prices enough to transfer 13.2% of consumer surplus from employer groups to insurers (approximately $34.4 billion in 1997), and increase employer group turnover by 64% for the average insurance policy. This heightened turnover reduces insurer incentives to invest in the future health of their policy holders. Our analysis also suggests that a publicly-financed insurance option might improve private insurance markets by reducing distortions induced by search frictions.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 14455.

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Date of creation: Oct 2008
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14455

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Cited by:
  1. Rahkovsky, Ilya, 2010. "Exclusive contracts in health insurance," MPRA Paper 27473, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  2. Mariana Carrera & Dana Goldman & Geoffrey Joyce, 2013. "Heterogeneity in Cost-Sharing and Cost-Sensitivity, and the Role of the Prescribing Physician," NBER Working Papers 19186, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Schmitz, Hendrik & Ziebarth, Nicolas R., 2011. "In Absolute or Relative Terms? How Framing Prices Affects the Consumer Price Sensitivity of Health Plan Choice," IZA Discussion Papers 6241, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  4. Hendrik Schmitz & Nicolas R. Ziebarth, 2011. "In Absolute or Relative Terms? How Framing Prices Affects the Consumer Price Sensitivity of," Ruhr Economic Papers 0304, Rheinisch-Westfälisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Universität Dortmund, Universität Duisburg-Essen.
  5. Miller, Amalia R. & Eibner, Christine & Gresenz, Carole Roan, 2013. "Financing of employer sponsored health insurance plans before and after health reform: What consumers don’t know won’t hurt them?," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 36(C), pages 36-47.

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