Economics - General Experimental Health Insurance

Health Insurance keeps us from getting sick?

John Tierney writes in The New York Times (“Appeasing the Gods…“) that “”We buy insurance not just for peace of mind or to protect ourselves financially, but because…we think buying health insurance will keep us from getting sick.”

A rational person would believe that buying insurance against an event will not alter the probability that it will occur–ignoring issues of moral hazard.  For instance, the act of buying health insurance should not make us less likely to be sick.  Using more preventive care which is cheaper due to insurance can prevent illness, but the act of buying health insurance should not effect the probability one gets sick holding constant the medical care levels.

A better example may be travel insurance.  “Last year, tens of millions of people bought life insurance for scheduled flights of airlines in the United States. Not one of those insured passengers died in a crash.”  Is this a waste of money?  Not if you are superstitious and believe that the act of buying life insurance affects the probability your plane will crash.

So when we think about passing up flight insurance, we conjure up disaster just as easily as ancient Greeks imagined a thunderbolt from Olympus, and we too figure we can avert it through the equivalent of a bull sacrifice. Intuitively, we haven’t made great strides since Homer’s day. But at least our gods take credit cards.

  • Hat tip to Arnold Kling at EconLog.