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Subsidizing Health Insurance for Low-Income Adults: Evidence from Massachusetts

Listed author(s):
  • Amy Finkelstein
  • Nathaniel Hendren
  • Mark Shepard

How much are low-income individuals willing to pay for health insurance, and what are the implications for insurance markets? Using administrative data from Massachusetts’ subsidized insurance exchange, we exploit discontinuities in the subsidy schedule to estimate willingness to pay and costs of insurance among low-income adults. As subsidies decline, insurance take-up falls rapidly, dropping about 25% for each $40 increase in monthly enrollee premiums. Marginal enrollees tend to be lower-cost, consistent with adverse selection into insurance. But across the entire distribution we can observe – approximately the bottom 70% of the willingness to pay distribution – enrollee willingness to pay is always less than half of own expected costs. As a result, we estimate that take-up will be highly incomplete even with generous subsidies: if enrollee premiums were 25% of insurers’ average costs, at most half of potential enrollees would buy insurance; even premiums subsidized to 10% of average costs would still leave at least 20% uninsured. We suggest an important role for uncompensated care for the uninsured in explaining these findings and explore normative implications.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 23668.

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Date of creation: Aug 2017
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23668
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  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, 09.
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  7. Amy Finkelstein & Sarah Taubman & Bill Wright & Mira Bernstein & Jonathan Gruber & Joseph P. Newhouse & Heidi Allen & Katherine Baicker, 2012. "The Oregon Health Insurance Experiment: Evidence from the First Year," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 127(3), pages 1057-1106.
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  9. Martin B. Hackmann & Jonathan T. Kolstad & Amanda E. Kowalski, 2015. "Adverse Selection and an Individual Mandate: When Theory Meets Practice," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(3), pages 1030-1066, March.
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  12. Johannes Spinnewijn, 2017. "Heterogeneity, demand for insurance and adverseselection," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 66511, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
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