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Delivering Public Health Insurance through Private Plan Choice in the United States

Jonathan Gruber

Journal of Economic Perspectives, 2017, vol. 31, issue 4, 3-22

Abstract: The United States has seen a sea change in the way that publicly financed health insurance coverage is provided to low-income, elderly, and disabled enrollees. When programs such as Medicare and Medicaid were introduced in the 1960s, the government directly reimbursed medical providers for the care that they provided, through a classic "single payer system." Since the mid-1980s, however, there has been an evolution towards a model where the government subsidizes enrollees who choose among privately provided insurance options. In the United States, privatized delivery of public health insurance appears to be here to stay, with debates now focused on how much to expand its reach. Yet such privatized delivery raises a variety of thorny issues. Will choice among private insurance options lead to adverse selection and market failures in privatized insurance markets? Can individuals choose appropriately over a wide range of expensive and confusing plan options? Will a privatized approach deliver the promised increases in delivery efficiency claimed by advocates? What policy mechanisms have been used, or might be used, to address these issues? A growing literature in health economics has begun to make headway on these questions. In this essay, I discuss that literature and the lessons for both economics more generally and health care policymakers more specifically.

JEL-codes: G22 H51 I13 I18 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2017
Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.31.4.3
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