Guaranteed Renewability and the Problem of Risk Variation in Individual Health Insurance Markets

Health Affairs Web Exclusive
Web Exclusive
September 2002
Patel, V. and M.V. Pauly
pp. W280-9

Consumers should be protected against fluctuations in premiums for private individual health insurance associated with the onset of high-cost chronic conditions. The most commonly discussed way to do so is through community rating, which provides protection but can require a heavy regulatory burden and can create incentives for adverse selection and cream skimming. This paper describes an alternative method of providing the same type of protection: insurance contract provisions that guarantee renewability for the next coverage period at class-average rates. Drawing on recent work in insurance theory, the paper shows that such protection is feasible in competitive insurance markets. Guaranteed renewability, which is required of all individual health insurance by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996, is incomplete because the law fails to require that premiums be the same for all insured persons in a rating class. However, the paper reports the results of a recent survey of state insurance regulation, which indicates that all but three state insurance departments report having such a requirement. The paper concludes with a discussion of possible threats to the protection guaranteed renewability provides against risk segmentation.

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