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Could a Website Really Have Doomed the Health Exchanges? Multiple Equilibria, Initial Conditions and the Construction of the Fine


  • Florian Scheuer
  • Kent Smetters


Public attention has focused on how the launch of the national health exchanges could impact the types of risks who initially enroll and thereby affect future premiums and enrollment. We introduce simple dynamics into a standard model of insurance under adverse selection to show that such "initial conditions" can indeed matter. When firms are price-takers, the market can converge to a Pareto-inferior "bad" equilibrium if there are at least three equilibria, which we suggest has empirical support. Strategic pricing eliminates Pareto dominated equilibria but requires common knowledge of preference and risk distributions. Changing the fine on non-participants from a fixed amount to a fraction of equilibrium prices increases the range of initial conditions consistent with reaching the "good" equilibrium while reducing the "badness" of the bad equilibrium -- all without increasing the fine value in the good equilibrium. Allowing insurers to quickly change prices can encourage them to experiment with strategic pricing if market fundamentals are not perfectly known, increasing the chance of reaching the good equilibrium independently from initial conditions.

Suggested Citation

  • Florian Scheuer & Kent Smetters, 2014. "Could a Website Really Have Doomed the Health Exchanges? Multiple Equilibria, Initial Conditions and the Construction of the Fine," NBER Working Papers 19835, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19835
    Note: AG HE IO PE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Nick Netzer & Florian Scheuer, 2014. "A Game Theoretic Foundation Of Competitive Equilibria With Adverse Selection," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 55, pages 399-422, May.
    2. Benjamin R. Handel & Igal Hendel & Michael D. Whinston, 2013. "Equilibria in Health Exchanges: Adverse Selection vs. Reclassification Risk," NBER Working Papers 19399, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Mas-Colell, Andreu & Whinston, Michael D. & Green, Jerry R., 1995. "Microeconomic Theory," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195102680.
    4. Liran Einav & Amy Finkelstein, 2011. "Selection in Insurance Markets: Theory and Empirics in Pictures," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(1), pages 115-138, Winter.
    5. Nathaniel Hendren, 2014. "Unravelling vs Unravelling: A Memo on Competitive Equilibriums and Trade in Insurance Markets," The Geneva Risk and Insurance Review, Palgrave Macmillan;International Association for the Study of Insurance Economics (The Geneva Association), vol. 39(2), pages 176-183, September.
    6. Wilson, Charles, 1977. "A model of insurance markets with incomplete information," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 16(2), pages 167-207, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Michal Fabinger & E. Glen Weyl, 2016. "The Average-Marginal Relationship and Tractable Equilibrium Forms," CIRJE F-Series CIRJE-F-1028, CIRJE, Faculty of Economics, University of Tokyo.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D4 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design
    • D8 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty
    • H3 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents
    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health

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