NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Articulation Effect of Government Policy: Health Insurance Mandates Versus Taxes

Keith Marzilli Ericson, Judd B. Kessler

NBER Working Paper No. 18913
Issued in March 2013
NBER Program(s):   HC   LE   PE

We examine how the articulation of government policy affects behavior. Our experiment compares a government mandate to purchase health insurance to a financially equivalent tax on the uninsured. Participants report their probability of purchasing health insurance under one of the two articulations of the policy. The experiment was conducted in four waves, from December 2011 to November 2012. We document the controversy over the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandate provision that changed the political discourse during the year. Pre-controversy, 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. After the controversy, the mandate is no more effective than the tax. Our results show that how a policy is articulated affects behavior and that persuasion and public opinion management can help achieve policy objectives at lower cost.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w18913

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