Given that my main job for the last ~6 months has been to do economic research, I thought it might be worth summarizing what I have found so far.
My first paper, “The Effect of Health Insurance Benefit Mandates on Premiums“, finds that recent increases in health insurance premiums can be largely attributed to states requiring health insurance plans to cover more and more things. Previous research had found mixed evidence for this. Strangely, most previous papers examined the premiums on individual health insurance, even though the vast majority of Americans have group health insurance (usually through their employer).
These findings take on new importance due to the individual mandate. Previously, states passed benefit mandates not because they were necessary, but in order to satisfy certain interest groups; before 1965 most states had no benefit mandates. But once everyone is required to have “health insurance”, we need to decide what plans must include in order to count as “health insurance”. My paper suggests that it might be a good idea to keep these “Essential Health Benefits” relatively narrow.
My second paper, “Who Pays the High Health Costs of Older Workers? Evidence from Prostate Cancer Screening Mandates“, focuses in on one specific mandate that mostly benefits men over 50. I find that the cost of this mandate is passed on to men over 50 in the form of lower wages. Some men also lose access to employer insurance altogether.
Some of the general lessons from my work so far:
1) There are no free lunches: getting higher benefits means incurring higher costs
2) Laws passed with good intentions can backfire, hurting the very people they are intended to help
3) Employer-based health insurance messes up labor markets
My future work will examine point 3 in more depth. I will examine the good (or perhaps bad) things that happen when people get access to affordable health insurance that isn’t tied to their employment.