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The Importance of Group Coverage: How Tax Policy Shaped U.S. Health Insurance

  • Melissa A. Thomasson

In 1954, the Internal Revenue Service stipulated that employer contributions to the health insurance plans of their employees were to be excluded from employee taxable income. Today, the tax subsidy is major feature of the U.S. health care market. This paper examines the initial effects of the tax subsidy on the demand for health insurance using previously unexamined data from 1953 and 1958. Results suggest that the tax subsidy increased the growth of group insurance, particularly among union members and employed persons. This is a critical effect because group insurance is not only less expensive than individual insurance, but it is also easier to obtain, and households with access to group health insurance are far more likely to purchase health insurance coverage than those without similar access. By increasing access to group insurance, the tax subsidy fostered an increase in the purchase of group health insurance by people who may not have purchased individual coverage, and generated institutional change as it cemented an employment-based system of group health insurance in the United States.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7543.

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Date of creation: Feb 2000
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Publication status: published as "From Sickness To Health: The Twentieth-Century Development Of U.S. Health Insurance," Explorations in Economic History, Vol. 39, no. 3 (July 2002): 233-253
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7543
Note: DAE HC PE
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  1. Madrian, Brigitte C, 1994. "Employment-Based Health Insurance and Job Mobility: Is There Evidence of Job-Lock?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 109(1), pages 27-54, February.
  2. Feldstein, Martin & Friedman, Bernard, 1977. "Tax subsidies, the rational demand for insurance and the health care crisis," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 7(2), pages 155-178, April.
  3. Woodbury, Stephen A & Hamermesh, Daniel S, 1992. "Taxes, Fringe Benefits and Faculty," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 74(2), pages 287-96, May.
  4. Oaxaca, Ronald L. & Ransom, Michael R., 1994. "On discrimination and the decomposition of wage differentials," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 61(1), pages 5-21, March.
  5. Jonathan Gruber & James M. Poterba, 1993. "Tax Incentives and the Decision to Purchase Health Insurance: Evidence from the Self-Employed," NBER Working Papers 4435, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Ronald Oaxaca, 1971. "Male-Female Wage Differentials in Urban Labor Markets," Working Papers 396, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  7. Manning, Willard G, et al, 1987. "Health Insurance and the Demand for Medical Care: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(3), pages 251-77, June.
  8. Thomasson, Melissa A., 2002. "From Sickness to Health: The Twentieth-Century Development of U.S. Health Insurance," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 233-253, July.
  9. Kantor, Shawn Everett & Fishback, Price V, 1996. "Precautionary Saving, Insurance, and the Origins of Workers' Compensation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(2), pages 419-42, April.
  10. Gruber, Jonathan & Madrian, Brigitte C., 1997. "Employment separation and health insurance coverage," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 66(3), pages 349-382, December.
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