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The RAND Health Insurance Experiment, Three Decades Later


  • Aviva Aron-Dine

    () (NBER)

  • Liran Einav

    () (Stanford University)

  • Amy Finkelstein

    () (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)


We re-present and re-examine the analysis from the famous RAND Health Insurance Experiment from the 1970s on the impact of consumer cost sharing in health insurance on medical spending. We begin by summarizing the experiment and its core findings in a manner that would be standard in the current age. We then examine potential threats to the validity of a causal interpretation of the experimental treatment effects stemming from different study participation and differential reporting of outcomes across treatment arms. Finally, we re-consider the famous RAND estimate that the elasticity of medical spending with respect to its out-of-pocket price is -0.2, emphasizing the challenges associated with summarizing the experimental treatment effects from non-linear health insurance contracts using a single price elasticity.

Suggested Citation

  • Aviva Aron-Dine & Liran Einav & Amy Finkelstein, 2012. "The RAND Health Insurance Experiment, Three Decades Later," Discussion Papers 12-007, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
  • Handle: RePEc:sip:dpaper:12-007

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Marianne P. Bitler & Jonah B. Gelbach & Hilary W. Hoynes, 2006. "What Mean Impacts Miss: Distributional Effects of Welfare Reform Experiments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(4), pages 988-1012, September.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • G22 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Insurance; Insurance Companies; Actuarial Studies
    • 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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