July 30, 2015

The market for health insurance price comparison

Internet has provided multiple option for price comparison through website aggregators. On health insurance you can find several alternatives. Is this market competitive? Who wins and who losses?. This is the question asked in a recent article in The Economist:
Consumers should celebrate that; the firms’ losses are their gains. But there is a catch. Comparison sites, whether for insurance or something else, introduce a new layer of costs, including their own splashy advertising campaigns. In theory, competition in the market for comparison sites ought to keep those costs down. But in a recent paper, David Ronayne of Warwick University argues that consumers often lose out from comparison sites. They earn a commission for each shopper who uses them to buy insurance. That referral cost is incorporated into the price the consumer ends up paying. If the increased costs outweigh the saving the comparison enables, consumers end up worse off.
And the proposal:
How can you ensure the market for price comparison is competitive? Asking consumers to check multiple websites defeats the point of using them. One solution is to have only one site, but regulate it as a public utility. Alternatively, the government could run the site itself—much as the American government now runs comparison websites for health insurance under Obamacare.
I think that this is the right approach, why not apply it here?