Washington Post’s Wonkblog Spotlights Keith Ericson on Obamacare, Enrollment, and Labels

in Faculty, Faculty in the News, Health Sector, Markets, Public Policy & Law, News
April 4th, 2013

“It’s a mandate! It’s a tax! How word choice effects Obamacare enrollment.”

Keith Marzilli EricsonThe Washington Post‘s Wonkblog, in their Health Reform Watch column, recently spotlighted a study co-authored by Boston University’s Keith Marzilli Ericson on the impact of terminology on enrollment in mandated health insurance. Ericson, an assistant professor of markets, public policy, and law at the School of Management, is also co-author of a related National Bureau of Economic Research paper titled “Pricing Regulation and Imperfect Competition on the Massachusetts Health Insurance Exchange.”

As The Washington Post reports,

It was this week, one year ago, that the Affordable Care Act had its day in court—the Supreme Court, that is.

The health care law had the longest oral arguments of any case the high court has heard; supporters lined up for a seat in the courthouse four days in advance.

Obamacare’s mandated purchase of health coverage survived the challenge. It may not, however, have gotten off scot free: New research suggests the controversy over the mandate may been a blow to its credibility—and Americans’ willingness to comply.

That’s the takeaway from a new paper, authored by Boston University’s Keith Marzilli Ericson and University of Pennsylvania’s Judd Kessler that looks at the difference between describing the health law’s penalty for not carrying insurance as a “mandate” or a “tax.”

The two are, as Ericson describes it, “logically identical.” Beginning in 2014, a person who fails to purchase health insurance will pay a $95 fine, regardless of whether they consider that a tax penalty or a fee for non-compliance with the mandate.

Ericson, whose research focuses on the intersection of health insurance and behavioral economics, had an inkling that the description would matter. He has researched the Massachusetts health reform effort, where a mandate helped the state achieve the highest rate of insurance in the country.

“We expected that the mandate would encourage insurance purchase more than a tax,” he says. “We thought that it establishes a social norm, and a sense of obligation.”

Read the full article at The Washington Post‘s Wonkblog.

Banner photo courtesy of flickr user DigiDreamGrafix.com