Should catastrophic risks be included in a regulated competitive health insurance market?
In 1988 the Dutch government launched a proposal for a national health insurance based on regulated competition. The mandatory benefits package should be offered by competing insurers and should cover both non-catastrophic risks (like hospital care, physician services and drugs) and catastrophic risks (like several forms of expensive long-term care). However, there are two arguments to exclude some of the catastrophic risks from the competitive insurance market, at least during the implementation process of the reforms. Firstly, the prospects for a workable system of risk-adjusted payments to the insurers that should take away the incentives for cream skimming are, at least during the next 5 years, more favorable for the non-catastrophic risks than for the catastrophic risks. Secondly, even if a workable system of risk-adjusted payments can be developed, the problem of quality skimping may be relevant for some of the catastrophic risks, but not for non-catastrophic risks. By 'quality skimping' we mean the reduction of the quality of care to a level which is below the minimum level that is acceptable to society. After 5 years of health care reforms in the Netherlands new insights have resulted in a growing support to confine the implementation of the reforms to the non-catastrophic risks. In drawing (and redrawing) the exact boundaries between different regulatory regimes for catastrophic and non-catastrophic risks, the expected benefits of a cost-effective substitution of care have to be weighted against the potential harm caused by cream skimming and quality skimping.