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Risk selection and heterogeneous preferences in health insurance markets with a public option
Journal Article

Abstract:  Conventional wisdom suggests that if private health insurance plans compete alongside a public option, they may endanger the latter's financial stability by cream-skimming good risks. This paper argues that two factors may contribute to the extent of cream-skimming: (i) degree of horizontal differentiation between public and private options when preferences are heterogeneous; (ii) whether contract design encourages choice of private insurance before information about risk is revealed. I explore the role of these factors empirically within the unique institutional setting of the German health insurance system. Using a fuzzy regression discontinuity design to disentangle adverse selection and moral hazard, I find no compelling support for extensive cream-skimming of public option by private insurers despite their ability to fully underwrite risk. A model of demand for private insurance supports the idea that heterogeneity in non-pecuniary preferences and long-term structure of private insurance contracts may be muting cream-skimming in this setting.

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