Assistant Professor Mark Shepard is joining the Harvard Kennedy School faculty this semester. Shepard comes to Harvard after serving as a post-doc at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). He received his A.B. at Harvard College and his Ph.D. at Harvard University, and studies health economics. We spoke with him about his background, his research and his interests outside the classroom.
Q: Please tell us about your primary areas of research.
I study the economics of health care markets. I am particularly interested in public health insurance markets like the Affordable Care Act (ACA) state exchanges and Medicaid managed care markets. This market-based design has become a major way that governments provide health insurance -- particularly in programs for low-income people -- but we don't have a good understanding of how this works.
A big unknown question is how competitive dynamics among insurers affects the cost and quality of care that beneficiaries receive. My main past work studies this question using data from Massachusetts' health insurance exchange. I find that insurers have a major incentive to limit their networks by excluding top-ranked hospitals, not necessarily because it is efficient but because doing so attracts lower-cost, more profitable customers. This force -- which economists call "adverse selection" -- played a major role in leading most insurers to drop the top hospitals in the Massachusetts exchange. It may also speak to the broader trend towards "narrow networks" nationwide in the ACA.
In ongoing work, I am studying topics including how changes in subsidies affect take-up of public health insurance, how hospitals' acquisitions of physician groups affects costs and quality of care, and how the presence of a state-run insurance plan influences competition in New York's Medicaid managed care market. I also have second strand of work studying retirement and Social Security. In ongoing work with a colleague at HKS, we are studying how and why changes in Social Security's early retirement age influences retirement decisions and what this means for optimal policy.
Q: Tell us a bit about your background. What has brought you to HKS?
I have been interested in economic policy ever since my first semester of taking economics in college. Just after college, I worked at the Brookings Institution's Center for Health Care Reform during the 2008-09 health reform debate. This showed me the importance of both basic understanding of economics and a familiarity with policy structures and the policy debate.
So I have been interested in the intersection of economics and policy for years. After finishing my PhD in economics at Harvard, I jumped at the opportunity to work at a place like HKS that is engaged with the intersection of these two issues.
Q: What courses will you be teaching at HKS?
I will be teaching in the spring semester core microeconomics course for MPP students. I will teach the section on social policy. I am excited to teach the students economics and also learn from such a diverse and accomplished student body.
Q: What do you do in your free time?
These days, my main non-work activity is caring for and playing with my one-year old baby girl, Lillian. She has been a joy to raise over the past year. In the little remaining time, I like to read and take walks around the beautiful Cambridge area (often with baby in tow).