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Death Spiral or Euthanasia? The Demise of Generous Group Health Insurance Coverage

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  • Mark V. Pauly
  • Olivia Mitchell
  • Yuhui Zeng

Abstract

Employers must determine which sorts of healthcare insurance plans to offer employees and also set employee premiums for each plan provided. Depending on how they structure the premiums that employees pay across different healthcare insurance plans, plan sponsors alter the incentives to choose one plan over another. If employees know they differ by risk level but premiums do not fully reflect these risk differences, this can give rise to a so-called "death spiral" due to adverse selection. In this paper use longitudinal information from a natural experiment in the management of health benefits for a large employer to explore the impact of moving from a fixed dollar contribution policy to a risk-adjusted employer contribution policy. Our results suggest that implementing a significant risk adjustment had no discernable effect on adverse selection against the most generous indemnity insurance policy. This stands in stark contrast to previous studies, which have tended to find large impacts. Further analysis suggests that previous studies which appeared to detect plans in the throes of a death spiral, may instead have been experiencing an inexorable movement away from a non-preferred product, one that would have been inefficient for almost all workers even in the absence of adverse selection.

Suggested Citation

  • Mark V. Pauly & Olivia Mitchell & Yuhui Zeng, 2004. "Death Spiral or Euthanasia? The Demise of Generous Group Health Insurance Coverage," NBER Working Papers 10464, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10464
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Strombom, Bruce A. & Buchmueller, Thomas C. & Feldstein, Paul J., 2002. "Switching costs, price sensitivity and health plan choice," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(1), pages 89-116, January.
    2. Melissa W. Barringer & Olivia S. Mitchell, 1994. "Workers' Preferences among Company-Provided Health Insurance Plans," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 48(1), pages 141-152, October.
    3. Roger Feldman & Michael Finch & Bryan Dowd & Steven Cassou, 1989. "The Demand for Employment-Based Health Insurance Plans," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 24(1), pages 115-142.
    4. Buchmueller, Thomas C. & Feldstein, Paul J., 1997. "The effect of price on switching among health plans," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 16(2), pages 231-247, April.
    5. Cutler, David M. & Zeckhauser, Richard J., 2000. "The anatomy of health insurance," Handbook of Health Economics,in: A. J. Culyer & J. P. Newhouse (ed.), Handbook of Health Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 11, pages 563-643 Elsevier.
    6. Beaulieu, Nancy Dean, 2002. "Quality information and consumer health plan choices," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(1), pages 43-63, January.
    7. David M. Cutler & Sarah J. Reber, 1998. "Paying for Health Insurance: The Trade-Off between Competition and Adverse Selection," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(2), pages 433-466.
    8. Anne Beeson Royalty & Neil Solomon, 1999. "Health Plan Choice: Price Elasticities in a Managed Competition Setting," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 34(1), pages 1-41.
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    Cited by:

    1. Liran Einav & Amy Finkelstein & Jonathan Levin, 2010. "Beyond Testing: Empirical Models of Insurance Markets," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 2(1), pages 311-336, September.
    2. David Bardey & Jean-Charles Rochet, 2010. "Competition Among Health Plans: A Two-Sided Market Approach," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 19(2), pages 435-451, June.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I11 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Analysis of Health Care Markets
    • G22 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Insurance; Insurance Companies; Actuarial Studies

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