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Premium Transparency in the Medicare Advantage Market: Implications for Premiums, Benefits, and Efficiency

Author

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  • Karen Stockley
  • Thomas McGuire
  • Christopher Afendulis
  • Michael E. Chernew

Abstract

In the Medicare Advantage (MA) market, private health insurers compete to offer plans with the most attractive premium and benefit package. Medicare provides a subsidy, based on a "benchmark payment rate", for each Medicare beneficiary a plan enrolls. We investigate how this subsidy, the primary policy lever in the market, affects the equilibrium premiums and benefits of MA plans. We exploit variation in benchmark payment rates within plans over time, coming from rebasing years where benchmark changes differed across areas in ways that were plausibly exogenous, to determine empirically how plan premiums and benefit generosity respond to changes in benchmarks. We find that premiums do not respond to changes in the benchmark payment rate on average but that insurers do pass through a portion of the benchmark increase by increasing plan benefit generosity. We argue that the way premium information is communicated to consumers influences the way in which plans pass through subsidy dollars and can account for the empirical results. More specifically, institutional features make it difficult for consumers to observe a large component of the plan premium, leading to a lack of demand response to premium reductions below the premium charged by traditional Medicare (the fee-for-service Part B premium). When demand does not respond to lower premiums, plans have an incentive to pass-through cost subsidies to consumers via more generous benefits that consumers may not value at cost, creating an inefficiently high level of benefit generosity. Our results provide evidence that a lack of premium transparency in the MA market may distort the combination of premium levels and benefit generosity offered in equilibrium, resulting in some degree of inefficiently high benefits. We conclude by discussing changes to the choice environment that would increase premium transparency and potentially soften the premium rigidities we find.

Suggested Citation

  • Karen Stockley & Thomas McGuire & Christopher Afendulis & Michael E. Chernew, 2014. "Premium Transparency in the Medicare Advantage Market: Implications for Premiums, Benefits, and Efficiency," NBER Working Papers 20208, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:20208
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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w20208.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Dunn, Abe, 2010. "The value of coverage in the medicare advantage insurance market," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(6), pages 839-855, December.
    2. Chernew, Michael & DeCicca, Philip & Town, Robert, 2008. "Managed care and medical expenditures of Medicare beneficiaries," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(6), pages 1451-1461, December.
    3. Duggan, Mark & Starc, Amanda & Vabson, Boris, 2016. "Who benefits when the government pays more? Pass-through in the Medicare Advantage program," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 141(C), pages 50-67.
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    Cited by:

    1. Rudy Douven & Ron van der Heijden & Thomas McGuire & Frederik T. Schut, 2017. "Premium Levels and Demand Response in Health Insurance: Relative Thinking and Zero-Price Effects," NBER Working Papers 23846, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Rudy Douven & Ron van der Heijden & Thomas McGuire & Erik Schut, 2017. "Premium levels and demand response in health insurance: relative thinking and zero-price effects," CPB Discussion Paper 366, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis.
    3. Ian M. McCarthy & Michael Darden, 2017. "Supply-Side Responses to Public Quality Ratings: Evidence from Medicare Advantage," American Journal of Health Economics, MIT Press, vol. 3(2), pages 140-164, Spring.
    4. Marika Cabral & Michael Geruso & Neale Mahoney, 2018. "Do Larger Health Insurance Subsidies Benefit Patients or Producers? Evidence from Medicare Advantage," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 108(8), pages 2048-2087, August.
    5. Duggan, Mark & Starc, Amanda & Vabson, Boris, 2016. "Who benefits when the government pays more? Pass-through in the Medicare Advantage program," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 141(C), pages 50-67.
    6. Rudy Douven & Ron van der Heijden & Thomas McGuire & Erik Schut, 2017. "Premium levels and demand response in health insurance: relative thinking and zero-price effects," CPB Discussion Paper 366.rdf, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis.
    7. Jay Bhattacharya & Vilsa Curto & Liran Einav & Jonathan Levin, 2014. "Can Health Insurance Competition Work? Evidence from Medicare Advantage," Discussion Papers 14-015, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
    8. McCarthy, Ian M., 2018. "Quality disclosure and the timing of insurers’ adjustments: Evidence from medicare advantage," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 61(C), pages 13-26.
    9. Haizhen Lin & Ian M. McCarthy, 2018. "Multimarket Contact in Health Insurance: Evidence from Medicare Advantage," NBER Working Papers 24486, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I11 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Analysis of Health Care Markets

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