Analyzing the Effects of Insuring Health Risks

This paper quantitatively evaluates the trade-off between the provision of health-related social insurance and the incentives to maintain good health through costly investments. To do so, we construct and estimate a dynamic model of health investments and health insurance in which the cross-sectional health distribution evolves endogenously and is shaped by labor market and health insurance policies. A no wage discrimination law in the labor market limits the extent to which wages can depend on the health status of a worker, and a no prior conditions law outlaws higher insurance premia for individuals with worse health status. In the model, the static gains from better insurance against poor health induced by these policies are traded off against their adverse dynamic incentive effects on household efforts to lead a healthy life. In our quantitative analysis, we find that it is optimal to insure 80% of labor market-related income risk (70% if a no prior conditions law is also present). Providing full insurance is strongly suboptimal, however, since at high levels of consumption insurance, the negative dynamic incentive effects on health effort and thus the population health distribution in the long run start to dominate the short-run consumption insurance gains.


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