Essays in Public Finance and Industrial Organization

Essays in Public Finance and Industrial Organization

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This dissertation has four chapters. The first three chapters examine health insurance markets in the U.S., focusing in particular on contexts where there are important interactions between health insurance plans. The fourth chapter is on the U.S. budget, examining the implications of annual budget cycles on the quantity and quality of end-of-year spending. Chapter 1, entitled qBankruptcy as Implicit Health Insuranceq examines the interaction between health insurance and the implicit insurance that people have because they can file (or threaten to file) for bankruptcy. With a simple model that captures key institutional features, I demonstrate that the financial risk from medical shocks is capped by the assets that could be seized in bankruptcy. For households with modest seizable assets, this implicit qbankruptcy insuranceq can crowd out conventional health insurance. I test these predictions using variation in the state laws that specify the type and level of assets that can be seized in bankruptcy. Because of the differing laws, people who have the same assets and receive the same medical care face different losses in bankruptcy. Exploiting the variation in seizable assets that is orthogonal to wealth and other household characteristics, I show that households with fewer seizable assets are more likely to be uninsured. This finding is consistent with another: uninsured households with fewer seizable assets end up making lower out-of-pocket medical payments. The estimates suggest that if the laws of the least debtor-friendly state of Delaware were applied nationally, 16.3 percent of the uninsured would buy health insurance. Achieving the same increase in coverage would require a premium subsidy of approximately 44.0 percent. To shed light on puzzles in the literature and examine policy counterfactuals, I calibrate a utility-based, micro-simulation model of insurance choice. Among other things, simulations show that qbankruptcy insuranceq explains the low take-up of high-deductible health insurance. Chapter 2, entitled qPricing and Welfare in Health Plan Choiceq, is coauthored with M. Kate Bundorf and Jonathan Levin. The starting point for the paper is the simple observation that when insurance premiums do not reflect individual differences in expected costs, consumers may choose plans inefficiently. We study this problem in health insurance markets, a setting in which prices often do not incorporate observable differences in expected costs. We develop a simple model and estimate it using data on small employers. In this setting, the welfare loss compared to the feasible risk-rated benchmark is around 2-11% of coverage costs. Three-quarters of this is due to restrictions on risk-rating employee contributions; the rest is due to inefficient contribution choices. Despite the inefficiency, the benefits from plan choice relative to each of the single-plan options are substantial. Chapter 3, entitled qThe Private Coverage and Public Costs: Identifying the Effect of Private Supplemental Insurance on Medicare Spending, q is coauthored with Marika Cabral. While most elderly Americans have health insurance coverage through Medicare, traditional Medicare policies leave individuals exposed to significant financial risk. Private supplemental insurance to qfill the gapsq of Medicare, known as Medigap, is very popular. In this Chapter, we estimate the impact of this supplemental insurance on total medical spending using an instrumental variables strategy that leverages discontinuities in Medigap premiums at state boundaries. Our estimates suggest that Medigap increases medical spending by 57 percent--or about 40 percent more than previous estimates. Back-of-the-envelope calculations indicate that a 20 percent tax on premiums would generate combined revenue and savings of 6.2 percent of baseline costs; a Pigovian tax that fully accounts for the fiscal externality would yield savings of 18.1 percent. Chapter 4, entitled qDo Expiring Budgets... (0.0050) Less than college -0.0052 (0.0065) -0.0048 (0.0063) College or more -0.0094 (0.0073) -0.0113 (0.0070) Log ... The sample is restricted to individuals with Medigap, HMO or no supplemental coverage who turned 65 in 2000 or later.

Title:Essays in Public Finance and Industrial Organization
Publisher:Stanford University - 2011


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