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Learning By Suffering?

Ginger Zhe Jin and Thomas G. Koch

American Journal of Health Economics, 2021, vol. 7, issue 1, 68 - 94

Abstract: An annual flu vaccination is one of the least controversial and most widely recommended preventive health measures. However, only a fraction of those who are suggested to get a flu vaccination actually receive it. We focus on past personal outcomes to understand how individual learning influences patterns over time using medical claims for a 5 percent panel sample of Medicare beneficiaries. We find that individuals learn from personal suffering from the flu and such learning is conditional on whether they had taken a flu vaccination in the same flu season. If they did not get vaccinated for the flu, having the flu later on encourages them to get the flu vaccine the following year. But if they had been vaccinated and still got the flu, their likelihood of getting a flu shot next year is significantly reduced. The outbreak of the H1N1 flu did not break the qualitative pattern of “learning by suffering” but it does change the magnitude of response.

Date: 2021
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