Behavioral economics

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Suppose your health insurance becomes more generous, decreasing the proportion of the cost of care for which you are responsible. At the same time, your premium goes up to cover the extra costs faced by your insurer. In standard theory you are better off because you face less financial uncertainty, but you will also tend to consume too much health care because the price you pay is lower than the cost of your treatment. Standard theory suggests that insurance should be designed to optimally trade-off these benefits and costs. But standard theory assumes rationality: suppose instead people systematically make errors when choosing how much health care to consume. Does it make a difference to how we think about health insurance?

In a recently released NBER working paper, “Behavioral hazard in health insurance,” Katherine Baicker, Sendhil Mullainathan, and Joshua Schwartzstein consider behavioral biases that lead people to (specifically, and with loss of generality) underutilize health care. How should we think about designing health insurance in the presence of such biases?

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