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Price Variation in Markets with Homogeneous Goods: The Case of Medigap

  • Nicole Maestas
  • Mathis Schroeder
  • Dana P. Goldman

About one-third of elderly Americans age 65 and older supplements their Medicare health insurance in a private insurance market known as the ÒMedigapÓ market. Prices for Medigap policies vary widely, despite the fact that regulations enacted in 1992 standardized all Medigap policies, thereby creating a market with homogenous insurance products. Economic theory suggests that consumer search costs can lead to a non-degenerate price distribution within a market for otherwise homogenous goods. Using a structural model of equilibrium search costs first posed by Carlson and McAfee (1983), the authors find that nearly all consumers face search costs high enough to prevent them from searching until they find the lowest priced Medigap policy. They estimate average search costs to be $249, substantially higher than has been found in other markets, but plausible given the complex nature of the Medigap market and its elderly consumer population. The implied aggregate welfare loss is approximately $798 million or $484 per policyholder.

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Paper provided by RAND Corporation Publications Department in its series Working Papers with number 504.

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Length: 52 pages
Date of creation: Jul 2006
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ran:wpaper:504
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  1. Hanming Fang & Michael P. Keane & Dan Silverman, 2006. "Sources of Advantageous Selection: Evidence from the Medigap Insurance Market," NBER Working Papers 12289, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. David Card & Carlos Dobkin & Nicole Maestas, 2004. "The Impact of Nearly Universal Insurance Coverage on Health Care Utilization and Health: Evidence from Medicare," Working Papers 197, RAND Corporation Publications Department.
  3. Jeffrey R. Brown & Austan Goolsbee, 2002. "Does the Internet Make Markets More Competitive? Evidence from the Life Insurance Industry," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(3), pages 481-507, June.
  4. Amy Finkelstein & Robin McKnight, 2005. "What Did Medicare Do (And Was It Worth It)?," NBER Working Papers 11609, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Dana Goldman & Nicole Maestas, 2013. "Medical Expenditure Risk And Household Portfolio Choice," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 28(4), pages 527-550, 06.
  6. Dahlby, Bev & West, Douglas S, 1986. "Price Dispersion in an Automobile Insurance Market," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(2), pages 418-38, April.
  7. Ali Hortacsu & Chad Syverson, 2003. "Product Differentiation, Search Costs, and Competition in the Mutual Fund Industry: A Case Study of the S&P 500 Index Funds," NBER Working Papers 9728, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Alan T. Sorensen, 2000. "Equilibrium Price Dispersion in Retail Markets for Prescription Drugs," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(4), pages 833-862, August.
  9. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:119:y:2004:i:2:p:403-456 is not listed on IDEAS
  10. Finkelstein, Amy, 2004. "Minimum standards, insurance regulation and adverse selection: evidence from the Medigap market," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(12), pages 2515-2547, December.
  11. Diamond, Peter A., 1971. "A model of price adjustment," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 3(2), pages 156-168, June.
  12. Carlson, John A & McAfee, R Preston, 1983. "Discrete Equilibrium Price Dispersion," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 91(3), pages 480-93, June.
  13. David Card & Carlos Dobkin & Nicole Maestas, 2008. "The Impact of Nearly Universal Insurance Coverage on Health Care Utilization: Evidence from Medicare," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(5), pages 2242-58, December.
  14. Stiglitz, Joseph E., 1989. "Imperfect information in the product market," Handbook of Industrial Organization, in: R. Schmalensee & R. Willig (ed.), Handbook of Industrial Organization, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 13, pages 769-847 Elsevier.
  15. George J. Stigler, 1961. "The Economics of Information," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 69, pages 213.
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