The Increased Concentration of Health Plan Markets Can Benefit Consumers Through Lower Hospital Prices

Published in: Health Affairs, v. 30, no. 9, Sep. 2011, p. 1728-1732

Posted on RAND.org on August 31, 2011

by Glenn Melnick, Yu-Chu Shen, Vivian Y. Wu

Read More

Access further information on this document at Health Affairs

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

The long-term trend of consolidation among US health plans has raised providers' concerns that the concentration of health plan markets can depress their prices. Although our study confirmed that, it also revealed a more complex picture. First, we found that 64 percent of hospitals operate in markets where health plans are not very concentrated, and only 7 percent are in markets that are dominated by a few health plans. Second, we found that in most markets, hospital market concentration exceeds health plan concentration. Third, our study confirmed earlier studies showing that greater hospital market concentration leads to higher hospital prices. Fourth, we found that hospital prices in the most concentrated health plan markets are approximately 12 percent lower than in more competitive health plan markets. Overall, our results show that more concentrated health plan markets can counteract the price-increasing effects of concentrated hospital markets, and that—contrary to conventional wisdom—increased health plan concentration benefits consumers through lower hospital prices as long as health plan markets remain competitive. Our findings also suggest that consumers would benefit from policies that maintained competition in hospital markets or that would restore competition to hospital markets that are uncompetitive.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit www.rand.org/about/principles.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.