M-RCBG Faculty Working Paper Series

Economic Principles for Medicare Reform

Amitabh Chandra and Craig Garthwaite

December 2019


In this paper, Amitabh Chandra and Craig Garthwaite develop an economic framework for Medicare reform that highlights trade-offs that reform proposals should grapple with, but often ignore. Central to their argument is a tension in administratively set prices, which may improve short-term efficiency but do so at the expense of dynamic efficiency (slowing innovations in new treatments). The smaller the Medicare program is relative to the commercial market, the less important this is; but in a world where there are no market prices or the private sector is very small, the task of setting prices that are dynamically correct becomes more complex. Reforming Medicare should focus on greater incentives to increase competition between Medicare Advantage plans, which necessitates a role for government in ensuring competition; premium support; less use of regulated prices; and less appetite for countless “pay for performance” schemes. They apply this framework to evaluate Medicare for All proposals.

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