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Comparison Friction: Experimental Evidence from Medicare Drug Plans

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  • Jeffrey R. Kling
  • Sendhil Mullainathan
  • Eldar Shafir
  • Lee Vermeulen
  • Marian Wrobel

Abstract

Consumers need information to compare alternatives for markets to function efficiently. Recognizing this, public policies often pair competition with easy access to comparative information. The implicit assumption is that comparison friction—the wedge between the availability of comparative information and consumers’ use of it—is inconsequential because information is readily available and consumers will access this information and make effective choices. We examine the extent of comparison friction in the market for Medicare Part D prescription drug plans in the United States. In a randomized field experiment, an intervention group received a letter with personalized cost information. That information was readily available for free and widely advertised. However, this additional step—providing the information rather than having consumers actively access it—had an impact. Plan switching was 28 percent in the intervention group, versus 17 percent in the comparison group, and the intervention caused an average decline in predicted consumer cost of about $100 per year among letter recipients—roughly 5 percent of the cost in the comparison group. Our results suggest that comparison friction can be large even when the cost of acquiring information is small, and may be relevant for a wide range of public policies that incorporate consumer choice.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17410.

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Date of creation: Sep 2011
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Publication status: published as Quarterly Journal of Economics, 127:1 (February 2012), 199-235.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17410

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  1. Jason Abaluck & Jonathan Gruber, 2011. "Choice Inconsistencies among the Elderly: Evidence from Plan Choice in the Medicare Part D Program," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(4), pages 1180-1210, June.
  2. Ketcham, Jonathan D. & Lucarelli, Claudio & Miravete, Eugenio J & Roebuck, M Christopher, 2011. "Sinking, Swimming, or Learning to Swim in Medicare Part D," CEPR Discussion Papers 8585, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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  4. Amy Finkelstein, 2010. "Comment on "Mind the Gap! Consumer Perceptions and Choices of Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans"," NBER Chapters, in: Research Findings in the Economics of Aging, pages 481-484 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Claudio Lucarelli & Jeffrey T. Prince & Kosali Simon, 2009. "The Welfare Impact of Reducing Choice in Medicare Part D: A Comparison of Two Regulation Strategies," Working Papers 2010-14, Indiana University, Kelley School of Business, Department of Business Economics and Public Policy.
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  7. Heiss, Florian & McFadden, Daniel L. & Winter, Joachim, 2006. "Who failed to enroll in Medicare Part D, and why? Early results," Munich Reprints in Economics 19427, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  8. Florian Heiss & Daniel McFadden & Joachim Winter, 2010. "Mind the Gap! Consumer Perceptions and Choices of Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans," NBER Chapters, in: Research Findings in the Economics of Aging, pages 413-481 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  11. Dana P. Goldman & Geoffrey F. Joyce & William B. Vogt, 2011. "Part D Formulary and Benefit Design as a Risk-Steering Mechanism," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(3), pages 382-86, May.
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