Measuring Ex-Ante Welfare in Insurance Markets

The willingness to pay for insurance captures the value of insurance against only the risk that remains when choices are observed. This paper develops tools to measure the ex-ante expected utility impact of insurance subsidies and mandates when choices are observed after some insurable information is revealed. The approach retains the transparency of using reduced-form willingness to pay and cost curves, but it adds one additional sufficient statistic: the percentage difference in marginal utilities between insured and uninsured. I provide an approach to estimate this additional statistic that uses only the reduced-form willingness to pay curve, combined with a measure of risk aversion. I compare the approach to structural approaches that require fully specifying the choice environment and information sets of individuals. I apply the approach using existing willingness to pay and cost curve estimates from the low-income health insurance exchange in Massachusetts. Ex-ante optimal insurance prices are roughly 30% lower than prices that maximize observed market surplus. While mandates reduce market surplus, the results suggest they would actually increase ex-ante expected utility.

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