Theory of health insurance.

J. A. Nyman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The conventional explanation for purchasing insurance is to transfer risk. Psychologists, however, have shown that this explanation does not match actual behavior. They find that people generally prefer the risk of no loss at all to the certainty of a smaller actuarially equivalent loss, a situation exactly opposite to the one represented by the purchase of insurance. Nevertheless, people do purchase insurance, so there must be an explanation other than risk transfer for purchasing it. Of the explanations so far advanced, however, none have yet developed a wide acceptance. Regardless of risk issues, people will be more likely to purchase insurance when the premium is low compared to the value of the coverage to the consumer. Moral hazard raises the premium, as does adverse selection. The presence of either makes the purchase of insurance less likely. With health insurance, the tax subsidy can reduce the effective premium to less than the actuarially fair cost of insurance. This would increase the likelihood that health insurance is purchased. Finally, because of the value we place on our health, we desire access to a full range of health care. Health insurance is often the only affordable way of gaining access to this care, given the high costs of many of these procedures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-66
Number of pages26
JournalThe Journal of health administration education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 1998


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