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Upcoding: Evidence from Medicare on Squishy Risk Adjustment

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  • Michael Geruso
  • Timothy Layton

Abstract

In most US health insurance markets, plans face strong incentives to “upcode” the patient diagnoses they report to the regulator, as these affect the risk-adjusted payments plans receive. We show that enrollees in private Medicare plans generate 6% to 16% higher diagnosis-based risk scores than they would under fee-for-service Medicare, where diagnoses do not affect most provider payments. Our estimates imply upcoding generates billions in excess public spending and significant distortions to firm and consumer behavior. We show that coding intensity increases with vertical integration, suggesting a principal-agent problem faced by insurers, who desire more intense coding from the providers with whom they contract.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael Geruso & Timothy Layton, 2015. "Upcoding: Evidence from Medicare on Squishy Risk Adjustment," NBER Working Papers 21222, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:21222
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H42 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Publicly Provided Private Goods
    • H51 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Health
    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health
    • I13 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Insurance, Public and Private
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health

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