Insurer Competition and Negotiated Hospital Prices
We examine the impact of increased health insurer competition on negotiated hospital prices. Insurer competition can lead to lower premiums and reduced industry surplus, thereby depressing hospital prices; however, hospitals may also leverage fiercer insurer competition when bargaining in order to negotiate higher prices. We rely on a theoretical bargaining model to derive a regression equation relating negotiated prices to the degree of insurer competition, and use the presence of Kaiser Permanente in a hospital's market as a measure of insurer competition. We estimate a model of consumer demand for hospitals and use it to derive many of the other independent variables specified in the regression equation. Leveraging a unique dataset on negotiated prices between hospitals and commercial insurers in California in 2004, we find that increased insurer competition reduces hospital prices on average, but has a positive and empirically meaningful effect on the prices of attractive and high utility generating hospitals. This heterogeneous effect across hospitals—which has not been emphasized in the recent literature on hospital-insurer bargaining—provides incentives for hospital investment and consolidation, and implies that hospital market power can lead to high input prices even in markets where many insurers are present.
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