Very high and low residual spenders in private health insurance markets: Germany, The Netherlands and the U.S. Marketplaces
We study the extremely high and low residual spenders in individual health insurance markets in three countries. A high (low) residual spender is someone for whom the residual—spending less payment (from premiums and risk adjustment)—is high (low), indicating that the person is highly underpaid (overpaid). We begin with descriptive analysis of the top and bottom 1% and 0.1% of residuals building to address the question of the degree of persistence in membership at the extremes. Common findings emerge among the countries. First, the diseases found among those with the highest residual spending are also disproportionately found among those with the lowest residual spending. Second, those at the top of the residual spending distribution (where spending exceeds payments the most) account for a massively high share of the unexplained variance in the predictions from the risk adjustment model. Third, in terms of persistence, we find that membership in the extremes of the residual spending distribution is highly persistent, raising concerns about selection-related incentives targeting these individuals. As our results show, the one-in-a-thousand people (on both sides of the residual distribution) play an outsized role in creating adverse incentives associated with health plan payment systems. In response to the observed importance of the extremes of the residual spending distribution, we propose an innovative combination of risk-pooling and reinsurance targeting the predictively undercompensated group. In all three countries, this form of risk sharing substantially improves the overall fit of payments to spending. Perhaps surprisingly, by reducing the burden on diagnostic indicators to predict high payments, our proposed risk sharing policy reduces the gap between payments and spending not only for the most undercompensated individuals but also for the most overcompensated people.