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Optimal Expectations and Limited Medical Testing: Evidence from Huntington Disease

  • Emily Oster
  • Ira Shoulson
  • E. Ray Dorsey

We use novel data to study the decision to undergo genetic testing by individuals at risk for Huntington disease (HD), a hereditary neurological disorder that reduces healthy life expectancy to about age 50. Although genetic testing is perfectly predictive and carries little financial or time cost, less than 10 percent of at-risk individuals are tested prior to the onset of symptoms. Testing rates are higher for individuals with higher ex ante risk of carrying the genetic expansion for HD. Untested individuals express optimistic beliefs about their probability of having HD and make fertility, savings, labor supply, and other decisions as if they do not have HD, even though individuals with confirmed HD behave quite differently. We show that these facts are qualitatively consistent with a model of optimal expectations (Brunnermeier and Parker, 2005) and can be reconciled quantitatively in this model with reasonable parameter values. This model nests the neoclassical framework and, we argue, provides strong evidence rejecting the assumptions of that framework. Finally, we briefly develop policy implications.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w17629.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17629.

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Date of creation: Dec 2011
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Publication status: published as “Optimal Expectations and Limited Medical Testing: Evidence from Huntington's Disease” (with E. Ray Dorsey and Ira Shoulson). American Economic Review, 103 (2): p. 804-830 (April 2013).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17629
Note: HC HE LS
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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  1. Rebecca L. Thornton, 2008. "The Demand for, and Impact of, Learning HIV Status," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(5), pages 1829-63, December.
  2. Guy Mayraz, 2011. "Priors and Desires," CEP Discussion Papers dp1047, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  3. Andrew Caplin & John Leahy, 2001. "Psychological Expected Utility Theory And Anticipatory Feelings," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(1), pages 55-79, February.
  4. Koszegi, Botond, 2003. "Health anxiety and patient behavior," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(6), pages 1073-1084, November.
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