August 24, 2009

COMPETITION AS BACK DOOR DEREGULATION:

The Competition Cure: A better idea to make health insurance affordable everywhere. (WSJ, 8/24/09)

[John Rother, executive vice president of AARP]: "There are states and localities where health care is much less expensive than others, and if we allow people to buy all their insurance from those places, it will raise the rates there. And it's called risk selection. It's a real problem, given the fact that health care costs can vary substantially from one place to another. So I think while the idea sounds appealing, the consequence would be it would make health care more expensive for those people who live in those low-cost areas."

How did Mr. Rother arrive at this conclusion?

His claim assumes that what makes insurance expensive in places like New Jersey—where the annual cost of an individual plan for a 25-year-old male in 2006 was $5,880—is merely the higher cost of medical services in the Garden State. He sounds an alarm in the rest of the country by suggesting that an individual living in, say, Kentucky—where an annual plan for a 25-year-old male cost less than $1,000 in 2006—would be asked to subsidize plan members living in high-priced states.

That's not how interstate insurance would work. Devon Herrick, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis who has written extensively on this subject, notes that insurance companies operating nationally would compete nationally. The reason a Kentucky plan written for an individual from New Jersey would save the New Jerseyan money is that New Jersey is highly regulated, with costly mandated benefits and guaranteed access to insurance.

Affordability would improve if consumers could escape states where each policy is loaded with mandates. "If consumers do not want expensive 'Cadillac' health plans that pay for acupuncture, fertility treatments or hairpieces, they could buy from insurers in a state that does not mandate such benefits," Mr. Herrick has written.

A 2008 publication "Consumer Response to a National Marketplace in Individual Insurance," (Parente et al., University of Minnesota) estimated that if individuals in New Jersey could buy health insurance in a national market, 49% more New Jerseyans in the individual and small-group market would have coverage. Competition among states would produce a more rational regulatory environment in all states.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 24, 2009 6:35 AM
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