NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Abstracts of Selected Recent NBER Working Papers

WP 15350

Annamaria Lusardi, Olivia S. Mitchell

How Ordinary Consumers Make Complex Economic Decisions: Financial Literacy and Retirement Readiness

This paper reports on several self-assessed and objective measures of financial literacy newly added to the American Life Panel (ALP), and it links these performance measures to efforts consumers make to plan for retirement. We evaluate the causal relationship between financial literacy and retirement planning by exploiting information about respondents' financial knowledge acquired in school - before entering the labor market and certainly before starting to plan for retirement. Results show that those with more advanced financial knowledge are those more likely to be retirement-ready.

WP 15392

Florian Heiss, Daniel McFadden, Joachim Winter

Regulation of Private Health Insurance Markets: Lessons from Enrollment, Plan Type Choice, and Adverse Selection in Medicare Part D

We study the Medicare Part D prescription drug insurance program as a bellwether for designs of private, non-mandatory health insurance markets that control adverse selection and assure adequate access and coverage. We model Part D enrollment and plan choice assuming a discrete dynamic decision process that maximizes life-cycle expected utility, and perform counterfactual policy simulations of the effect of market design on participation and plan viability. Our model correctly predicts high Part D enrollment rates among the currently healthy, but also strong adverse selection in choice of level of coverage. We analyze alternative designs that preserve plan variety.

WP 15410

Jean Marie Abraham, Thomas DeLeira, Anne Beeson Royalty

Moral Hazard Matters: Measuring Relative Rates of Underinsurance Using Threshold Measures

This paper illustrates the impact of moral hazard for estimating relative rates of underinsurance and presents an adjustment method to correct for this source of bias. Individuals or households are often classified as underinsured if out-of-pocket spending on medical care relative to income exceeds some threshold. We show that, without adjustment, this common threshold measure of underinsurance will underestimate the number with low levels of insurance coverage due to moral hazard. We propose an adjustment method and apply it to the specific case of estimating the difference in rates of underinsurance among small- versus large-firm workers with full-year, employer-sponsored insurance. Using data from the 2005 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, we find that after applying the adjustment, the underinsurance rate of small-firm households increases by approximately 20% with the adjustment for moral hazard and the difference in underinsurance rates between large firm and small firm households widens substantially. Adjusting for moral hazard makes a sizeable difference in the estimated prevalence of underinsurance using a threshold measure.

WP 15412

Daniel Carvell, Janet Currie, W. Bentley MacLeod

Accidental Death and the Rule of Joint and Several Liability

Reforms to the Joint and Several Liability rule (JSL) are one of the most common tort reforms and have been implemented by most US states. JSL allows plaintiffs to claim full recovery from one of the defendants, even if that defendant is only partially responsible for the tort. We develop a theoretical model that shows that the efficiency of the JSL rule depends critically on both whether the care taken by potential tortfeasors is observed, and on how the actions of the potential tortfeasors interact to cause the harm. We then provide evidence that reforms of the JSL rule have been accompanied by reductions in the accidental death rate in the U. S. This result is consistent with the hypothesis that the reform of JSL causes potential tortfeasors to take more care.

WP 15413

Janet Currie, Reed Walker

Traffic Congestion and Infant Health: Evidence from E-ZPass

This paper provides evidence of the significant negative health externalities of traffic congestion. We exploit the introduction of electronic toll collection, or E-ZPass, which greatly reduced traffic congestion and emissions from motor vehicles in the vicinity of highway toll plazas. Specifically, we compare infants born to mothers living near toll plazas to infants born to mothers living near busy roadways but away from toll plazas with the idea that mothers living away from toll plazas did not experience significant reductions in local traffic congestion. We also examine differences in the health of infants born to the same mother, but who differ in terms of whether or not they were "exposed" to E-ZPass. We find that reductions in traffic congestion generated by E-ZPass reduced the incidence of prematurity and low birth weight among mothers within 2km of a toll plaza by 10.8% and 11.8% respectively. Estimates from mother fixed effects models are very similar. There were no immediate changes in the characteristics of mothers or in housing prices in the vicinity of toll plazas that could explain these changes, and the results are robust to many changes in specification. The results suggest that traffic congestion is a significant contributor to poor health in affected infants. Estimates of the costs of traffic congestion should account for these important health externalities.

WP 15434

Leemore Dafny, Mark Duggan, Subramaniam Ramanarayanan

Paying a Premium on Your Premium? Consolidation in the U.S. Health Insurance Industry

We examine whether and to what extent consolidation in the U.S. health insurance industry is leading to higher employer-sponsored insurance premiums. We make use of a proprietary, panel dataset of employer-sponsored healthplans enrolling over 10 million Americans annually between 1998 and 2006 to explore the relationship between premium growth and changes in market concentration. We exploit the differential impact of a large national merger of two insurance firms across local markets to estimate the causal effect of concentration on market-level premiums. We estimate real premiums increased by 2 percentage points (in a typical market) due to the rise in concentration during our study period. We also find evidence that consolidation facilitates the exercise of monopsonistic power vis a vis physicians, whose absolute employment and relative earnings decline in its wake.

WP 15435

Alan L. Gustman, Thomas L. Steinmeier, Nahid Tabatabai

What the Stock Market Decline Means for the Financial Security and Retirement Choices of the Near-Retirement Population

This paper investigates the effect of the current recession on the near-retirement age population. Data from the Health and Retirement Study suggest that those approaching retirement age (early boomers ages 53 to 58 in 2006) have only 15.2 percent of their wealth in stocks, held directly or in defined contribution plans or IRAs. Their vulnerability to a stock market decline is limited by the high value of their Social Security wealth, which represents over a quarter of the total household wealth of the early boomers. In addition, their defined contribution plans remain immature, so their defined benefit plans represent sixty five percent of their pension wealth. Simulations with a structural retirement model suggest the stock market decline will lead the early boomers to postpone their retirement by only 1.5 months on average. Health and Retirement Study data also show that those approaching retirement are not likely to be greatly or immediately affected by the decline in housing prices. We end with a discussion of important difficulties facing those who would use labor market policies to increase the employment of older workers.

WP 15439

Robert Kaestner, Benjamin Yarnoff

Long Term Effects of Minimum Legal Drinking Age Laws on Adult Alcohol Use and Driving Fatalities

We examine whether adult alcohol consumption and traffic fatalities are associated with the legal drinking environment when a person was between the ages of 18 and 20. We find that moving from an environment in which a person was never allowed to drink legally to one in which a person could always drink legally was associated with a 20 to 30 percent increase in alcohol consumption and a ten percent increase in fatal accidents for adult males. There were no statistically significant or practically important associations between the legal drinking environment when young and adult female alcohol consumption and driving fatalities.

WP 15468

Margaret Kyle, Anita McGahan

Investments in Pharmaceuticals Before and After TRIPS

We examine the relationship between patent protection for pharmaceuticals and investment in development of new drugs. Patent protection has increased around the world as a consequence of the TRIPS Agreement, which specifies minimum levels of intellectual property protection for members of the World Trade Organization. It is generally argued that patents are critical for pharmaceutical research efforts, and so greater patent protection in developing and least-developed countries might result in greater effort by pharmaceutical firms to develop drugs that are especially needed in those countries. Since patents also have the potential to reduce access to treatments through higher prices, it is imperative to assess whether the benefits of increased incentives have materialized in research on diseases that particularly affect the poor. We find that patent protection is associated with increases in research and development (R&D) effort when adopted in high income countries. However, the introduction of patents in developing countries has not been followed by greater investment. Particularly for diseases that primarily affect the poorest count ries, our results suggest that alternative mechanisms for inducing R&D may be more appropriate than patents.

WP 15469

Annamaria Lusardi, Olivia S. Mitchell, Vilsa Curto

Financial Literacy and Financial Sophistication Among Older Americans

This paper analyzes new data on financial literacy and financial sophistication from the 2008 Health and Retirement Study. We show that financial literacy is lacking among older individuals and for the first time explore additional questions on financial sophistication which proves even scarcer. For this sample of older respondents over the age of 55, we find that people lack even a rudimentary understanding of stock and bond prices, risk diversification, portfolio choice, and investment fees. In view of the fact that individuals are increasingly required to take on responsibility for their own retirement security, this lack of knowledge has serious implications.

 

 
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