Abstracts of Selected Recent NBER Working Papers

WP 19216
David Neumark, Patrick Button
Did Age Discrimination Protections Help Older Workers Weather the Great Recession?

We examine whether stronger age discrimination laws at the state level moderated the impact of the Great Recession on older workers. We use a difference-in-difference-in-differences strategy to compare older workers in states with stronger and weaker laws, to their younger counterparts, both before, during, and after the Great Recession. We find very little evidence that stronger age discrimination protections helped older workers weather the Great Recession, relative to younger workers. The evidence sometimes points in the opposite direction, with stronger state age discrimination protections associated with more adverse effects of the Great Recession on older workers. We suggest that this may be because during an experience like the Great Recession, severe labor market disruptions make it difficult to discern discrimination, weakening the effects of stronger state age discrimination protections, or because higher termination costs associated with stronger age discrimination protections do more to deter hiring when future product and labor demand is highly uncertain.

WP 19218
Thomas Buchmueller, Sean Orzol, Lara D. Shore-Sheppard
The Effect of Medicaid Payment Rates on Access to Dental Care Among Children

Historically, low Medicaid reimbursement rates have limited the willingness of health care providers to accept Medicaid patients, leading to access problems in many communities. This problem has been especially acute in the case of dental care. We combine data from several sources to examine the effect of payment rates on access to dental care among children on Medicaid and on dentists' participation in the program. The main utilization analysis is based on data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation combined with data on Medicaid payment rates and private market dental fees for the years 2001 to 2010. Conditioning on state fixed effects, we find a modest, but statistically significant, positive relationship between Medicaid payment rates and several measures of dental care utilization. We find a comparable effect in aggregate data reported by state Medicaid programs. The most likely explanation for this result is that higher fees increase the number of dentists that accept Medicaid patients. We test this hypothesis directly using data from annual surveys of dentists conducted by the American Dental Association between 1999 and 2009. The results indicate a positive and statistically significant effect of Medicaid payment rates on whether a dentist treats any publicly insured patients and the percent of the practice's patients who have public insurance. Similar to the utilization results, the magnitude of the effect is relatively small. As a result, the estimates imply that increasing Medicaid payments to the level of private market fees would increase access to care, but the incremental cost of the additional visits induced would be very high.

WP 19247
Mireilla Jacobson, Tom Y. Chang, Joseph P. Newhouse, Craig C. Earle, M.D.
Physician Agency and Competition: Evidence from a Major Change to Medicare Chemotherapy Reimbursement Policy

We investigate the role of physician agency and competition in determining health care supply and patient outcomes. A 2005 change to Medicare fees had a large, negative impact on physician profit margins for providing chemotherapy treatment. In response to these cuts, physicians increased their provision of chemotherapy and changed the mix of chemotherapy drugs they administered. The increase in treatment improved patient survival. These changes were larger in states that experienced larger decreases in physician profit margins. Finally while physician response was larger in more competitive markets, survival improvements were larger in less competitive markets.

WP 19287
Christopher J. Ruhm
Recessions, Healthy No More?

Using data from multiple sources, over the 1976-–2009 period, I show that total mortality has shifted over time from strongly procyclical to being essentially unrelated to macroeconomic conditions. The relationship also shows some instability over time and is likely to be poorly measured when using short (less than 15 or 20 year) analysis periods. The secular change in the association between macroeconomic conditions and overall mortality primarily reflects trends in effects for specific causes of death, rather than changes in the composition of total mortality across causes. Deaths due to cardiovascular disease and transport accidents continue to be procyclical (although possibly less so than in the past), whereas strong countercyclical patterns of cancer fatalities and some external sources of death (particularly those due to accidental poisoning) have emerged over time. The changing effect of macroeconomic conditions on cancer deaths may partially reflect the increasing protective influence of financial resources, perhaps because these can be used to obtain sophisticated (and expensive) treatments that have become available in recent years. That observed for accidental poisoning probably has occurred because declines in mental health during economic downturns are increasingly associated with the use of prescribed or illicitly obtained medications that carry risks of fatal overdoses.

WP 19335
David E. Bloom, Elizabeth T. Cafiero, Mark E. McGovern, Klaus Prettner, Anderson Stanciole, Jonathan Weiss, Samuel Bakkila, Larry Rosenberg
The Economic Impact of Non-Communicable Disease in China and India: Estimates, Projections, and Comparisons

This paper provides estimates of the economic impact of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in China and India for the period 2012–2030. Our estimates are derived using WHO's EPIC model of economic growth, which focuses on the negative effects of NCDs on labor supply and capital accumulation. We present results for the five main NCDs (cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes, and mental health). Our undiscounted estimates indicate that the cost of the five main NCDs will total USD 27.8 trillion for China and USD 6.2 trillion for India (in 2010 USD). For both countries, the most costly domains are cardiovascular disease and mental health, followed by respiratory disease. Our analyses also reveal that the costs are much larger in China than in India mainly because of China's higher income and older population. Rough calculations also indicate that WHO’s Best Buys for addressing the challenge of NCDs are highly cost-beneficial.

WP 19373
JBenjamin Handel, Jonathan T. Kolstad
Health Insurance for "Humans": Information Frictions, Plan Choice, and Consumer Welfare

Traditional models of insurance choice are predicated on fully informed and rational consumers protecting themselves from exposure to financial risk. In practice, choosing an insurance plan from a set of complex non-linear contracts is a complicated decision often made without full information on several potentially important dimensions. In this paper we combine new administrative data on health plan choices and claims with unique survey data on consumer information and other typically unobserved preference factors in order to separately identify risk preferences, information frictions, and perceived plan hassle costs. The administrative and survey data are linked at the individual level, allowing in-depth investigations of the links between these micro- foundations in both descriptive and choice-model based analyses. We find that consumers lack information on many important dimensions that they are typically assumed to understand, perceive high plan hassle costs, and make choices that depend on these frictions. Moreover, in the context of an expected utility model, including the additional frictions that we measure has direct implications for risk preference estimates, which are typically assumed to be the only source of persistent unobserved preference heterogeneity in such models. In our setting, we show that incorporating measures of these frictions leads to meaningful reductions in estimated consumer risk aversion. This result has both positive and normative implications since risk aversion generally has different welfare implications than information frictions. We assess the welfare impact of a counterfactual menu design and find that the welfare loss from risk exposure when additional frictions are not taken into account is more than double that when they are, illustrating the potential importance of our analysis for policy decisions.

Liran Einav, Amy Finkelstein, Paul Schrimpf
The Response of Drug Expenditures to Non-Linear Contract Design: Evidence from Medicare Part D

We study the demand response to non-linear price schedules using data on insurance contracts and prescription drug purchases in Medicare Part D. Consistent with a static response of drug use to price, we document bunching of annual drug spending as individuals enter the famous "donut hole," where insurance becomes discontinuously much less generous on the margin. Consistent with a dynamic response to price, we document a response of drug use to the future out-of-pocket price by using variation in beneficiary birth month which generates variation in contract duration during the first year of eligibility. Motivated by these two facts, we develop and estimate a dynamic model of drug use during the coverage year that allows us to quantify and explore the effects of alternative contract designs on drug expenditures. For example, our estimates suggest that "filling" the donut hole, as required under the Affordable Care Act, will increase annual drug spending by $180 per beneficiary, or about 10%. Moreover, almost half of this increase is "anticipatory," coming from beneficiaries whose spending prior to the policy change would leave them short of reaching the donut hole. We also describe the nature of the utilization response and its heterogeneity across individuals and types of drugs.

WP 19430
Eric Budish, Benjamin N. Roin, Heidi Williams
Do Fixed Patent Terms Distort Innovation? Evidence from Cancer Clinical Trials

Patents award innovators a fixed period of market exclusivity, e.g., 20 years in the United States. Yet, since in many industries firms file patents at the time of discovery ("invention") rather than first sale ("commercialization"), effective patent terms vary: inventions that commercialize at the time of invention receive a full patent term, whereas inventions that have a long time lag between invention and commercialization receive substantially reduced - or in extreme cases, zero - effective patent terms. We present a simple model formalizing how this variation may distort research and development (R&D). We then explore this distortion empirically in the context of cancer R&D, where clinical trials are shorter - and hence, effective patent terms longer - for drugs targeting late-stage cancer patients, relative to drugs targeting early-stage cancer patients or cancer prevention. Using a newly constructed data set on cancer clinical trial investments, we provide several sources of evidence consistent with fixed patent terms distorting cancer R&D. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that the number of life-years at stake is large. We discuss three specific policy levers that could eliminate this distortion - patent design, targeted R&D subsidies, and surrogate (non-mortality) clinical trial endpoints - and provide empirical evidence that surrogate endpoints can be effective in practice.

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