Measuring Consumer Valuation of Limited Provider Networks

Measuring Consumer Valuation of Limited Provider Networks

Published: American Economic Review, Papers and Proceedings, 2015.

Longer version: NBER Working Paper 20812. (Joint with Amanda Starc)

WTP for Network Breadth


We measure provider coverage networks for plans on the Massachusetts health insurance exchange using a two measures: consumer surplus from a hospital demand system and the fraction of population hospital admissions that would be covered by the network. The two measures are highly correlated, and show a wide range of networks available to consumers. We then estimate consumer willingness-to-pay for network breadth, which varies by age. 60-year-olds value the broadest network approximately $1200-1400/year more than the narrowest network, while 30-year-olds value it about half as much. Consumers place additional value on star hospitals, and there is significant geographic heterogeneity in the value of network breadth.

Memory and Procrastination


I have two papers examining limited memory.  Most recently:

 On the Interaction of Memory and Procrastination: Implications for Reminders 

Abstract: I examine the interaction between present-bias and limited memory. Individuals in the model must choose when and whether to complete a task, but may forget or procrastinate. Present-bias expands the effect of memory: it induces delay and limits take-up of reminders. Cheap reminder technology can bound the cost of limited memory for time-consistent individuals but not for present-biased individuals, who procrastinate on setting up reminders. Moreover, while improving memory increases welfare for time-consistent individuals, it may harm present-biased individuals because limited memory can function as a commitment device. Thus, present-biased individuals may be better off with reminders that are unanticipated. Finally, I show how to optimally time the delivery of reminders to present-biased individuals.

Forthcoming, Journal of the European Economic Association. Latest version here, with results on empirical estimation. Older version: NBER Working Paper 20381

This paper built on my previous work on memory, showing that people are overconfident about the probability they will remember:

Forgetting We Forget: Overconfidence and Memory

Abstract:  Do individuals have unbiased beliefs, or are they over- or underconfident? Overconfident individuals may fail to prepare optimally for the future, and economists who infer preferences from behavior under the assumption of unbiased beliefs will make mistaken inferences. This paper documents overconfidence in a new domain, prospective memory, using an experimental design that is more robust to potential confounds than previous research. Subjects chose between smaller automatic payments and larger payments they had to remember to claim at a six-month delay. In a large sample of college and MBA students at two different universities, subjects make choices that imply a forecast of a 76% claim rate, but only 53% of subjects actually claimed the payment.

Published 2011 in the Journal of the European Economic Association; Ungated working paper available at SSRN.

Press Coverage:


When Consumers Do Not Make an Active Decision: Dynamic Default Rules and their Equilibrium Effects

Dynamic Defaults

Dynamic defaults for recurring purchases determine what happens to consumers enrolled in a product or service who take no action at a decision point. Consumers may face automatic renewal, automatic switching, or non-purchase defaults. Privately optimal dynamic defaults depend on the contributions of adjustment costs versus psychological factors leading to inaction: both produce inertia under renewal defaults, but differ under non-renewal defaults. Defaults have equilibrium effects on pricing by changing the elasticity of repeat demand. Socially optimal defaults depend on firms’ pricing responses as well; more elastic repeat demand restrains price increases on repeat customers and can reduce inefficient switching.

(Latest draft here. Older: NBER Working Paper 20127).


See also discussion in The Incidental Economist.



An individual mandate, or a tax? How policy is articulated matters.

Under the Affordable Care Act, people must buy health insurance  or pay a financial penalty. Framing that policy as a mandate to buy health insurance versus as a tax on not purchasing health insurance can matter.

In Ericson and Kessler (JEBO 2016), we describe the results of a year-long experiment in which a series of participants reported their probability of purchasing health insurance either under a mandate or a financially equivalent tax.

In late 2011 and early 2012, articulating the policy as a mandate, rather than a financially equivalent tax, increased probability of insurance purchase by 10.6 percentage points — an effect comparable to a $1000 decrease in annual premiums. However, the controversy over the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandate provision that changed the political discourse during the year 2012. We document the rise of this controversy. After the controversy, the mandate is no more effective than the tax.

For more, see:

The Size of the LGBT Population and the Magnitude of Anti-Gay Sentiment are Substantially Underestimated

The Size of the LGBT Population and the Magnitude of Anti-Gay Sentiment are Substantially Underestimated

The Size of the LGBT Population and the Magnitude of Anti-Gay Sentiment are Substantially Underestimated

Measuring sexual orientation, behavior, and related opinions is difficult because responses are biased towards socially acceptable answers. We test whether measurements are biased even when responses are private and anonymous and use our results to identify sexuality-related norms and how they vary. We run an experiment on 2,516 U.S. participants. Participants were randomly assigned to either a “best practices method” that was computer-based and provides privacy and anonymity, or to a “veiled elicitation method” that further conceals individual responses. Answers in the veiled method preclude inference about any particular individual, but can be used to accurately estimate statistics about the population.

Comparing the two methods shows sexuality-related questions receive biased responses even under current best practices, and, for many questions, the bias is substantial. The veiled method increased self-reports of non-heterosexual identity by 65% (p<0.05) and same-sex sexual experiences by 59% (p<0.01). The veiled method also increased the rates of anti-gay sentiment. Respondents were 67% more likely to express disapproval of an openly gay manager at work (p<0.01) and 71% more likely to say it is okay to discriminate against lesbian, gay, or bisexual individuals (p<0.01). The results show non-heterosexuality and anti-gay sentiment are substantially underestimated in existing surveys, and the privacy afforded by current best practices is not always sufficient to eliminate bias. Finally, our results identify two social norms: it is perceived as socially undesirable both to be open about being gay, and to be unaccepting of gay individuals.

Paper available below:

Press Coverage:

Contact me about this study:

How Product Standardization Affects Choice: Evidence from the Massachusetts Health Insurance Exchange

Product Standardization on the Mass. HIX

Product Standardization on the Mass. HIX

Standardization of complex products is touted as improving consumer decisions and intensifying price competition, but evidence on standardization is limited. We examine a natural experiment: the standardization of health insurance plans on the Massachusetts Health Insurance Exchange.

Pre-standardization, firms had wide latitude to design plans. A regulatory change then required firms to standardize the cost-sharing parameters of plans and offer seven defined options; plans remained differentiated on network, brand, and price. Standardization led consumers on the HIX to choose more generous health insurance plans and led to substantial shifts in brands’ market shares.

We decompose the sources of this shift into three effects: price, product availability, and valuation. A discrete choice model shows that standardization changed the weights consumers attach to plan attributes (a valuation effect), increasing the salience of tier. The availability effect explains the bulk of the brand shifts. Standardization increased consumer welfare in our models, but firms captured some of the surplus by reoptimizing premiums. We use hypothetical choice experiments to replicate the effect of standardization and conduct alternative counterfactuals.

Link to Full Working Paper: How Product Standardization Affects Choice: Evidence from the Massachusetts Health Insurance Exchange