How an ineffective mandate can cause health insurance costs to rise

What follows is excerpted from the new healthcare reform briefing paper by Tom Snook and Ron Harris, “Adverse Selection and the Individual Mandate.”

The idea behind a coverage mandate is to mitigate (or, ideally, totally eliminate) the effects of adverse selection on health insurance costs. If that mandate is so weak as to be ineffective, however, adverse selection will continue to be an issue and health insurance costs will increase as illustrated in the following example.

Consider a potential insurance population comprising three categories: Very Healthy, Moderately Healthy, and Unhealthy. For illustration’s sake, let’s say these groups have the following population sizes and expected average annual healthcare costs:



Average per capita healthcare cost

Very healthy



Moderately healthy






Let’s also say that a strong mandate existed and all 1 million of these lives would be enrolled into the health insurance pool. In this case, the average per capita healthcare cost would be $1,900. But under a weak mandate, the Very Healthy category has less of a financial incentive to participate, and would be more likely to opt out from coverage. The Unhealthy category still has an incentive to participate because of the relatively high costs it expects to have. If, for example, a weak mandate will cause only 50% of the Very Healthy, 80% of the Moderately Healthy, and 100% of the Unhealthy to enroll, then the average per capita cost of the resulting insured population is more than $2,400—27% higher than the strong mandate scenario.

It should be apparent from this example that the relative strength or weakness of a coverage mandate could best be measured by how many of the Very Healthy potential insureds wind up actually enrolling for coverage. The more healthy lives there are in the insurance pool to help bear a share of the costs, the lower the average cost for everyone. 

Click here to read the full paper.

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