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Comparison Friction: Experimental Evidence from Medicare Drug Plans

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

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 when information is readily available, 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% in the intervention group, versus 17% in the comparison group, and the intervention caused an average decline in predicted consumer cost of about $100 a year among letter recipients--roughly 5% 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. Copyright 2012, Oxford University Press.

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Article provided by Oxford University Press in its journal The Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Volume (Year): 127 (2012)
Issue (Month): 1 ()
Pages: 199-235

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Handle: RePEc:oup:qjecon:v:127:y:2012:i:1:p:199-235
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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.
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