Research Alert: June 19, 2019

Insurer Participation in Rural Health Insurance Marketplaces: Are Some Markets Intrinsically More Competitive Than Others?

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 established Health Insurance Marketplaces (HIMs) as a mechanism to improve the functioning of existing individual insurance markets. However, to be successful, this model requires the presence of at least a handful of insurers from which beneficiaries in each local market can choose. Over the first five years of HIMs, rural counties have often struggled to attract sufficient numbers of HIM insurers. In this project, county-level data were combined from HIM plan availability files, Medicare Advantage (MA) availability and enrollment files, and Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) availability and enrollment files. We calculated the Herfindahl Index, which is a measure of competition in a given market, for MA and FEHBP markets for each county in 2013-16.

We found that, within a given population density category, the number of HIM insurers was positively correlated with the prior level of FEHBP market competition in a county. Note, also, that market competition was generally higher as population density increased. In 2017, the pattern continued to hold, with those counties that still attracted several insurers (rather than just one or two) averaging the lowest prior-year FEHBP Herfindahl index. We found that many of the population measures were in fact significant in their own right, including population density, total population, primary care providers per capita, and rural status of the county. Furthermore, even when controlling for these measures, prior FEHBP market concentration (low competition) was a significant predictor of low insurer participation in HIMs. In addition, from 2014 to 2017, the magnitude of the effect increased.

Contact Information:

Abigail Barker, PhD
RUPRI Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis
Phone: 314.935.3513

Additional Resources of Interest: