Spotlight on Faculty Research: Prof. Pau Olivella

Prof. Pau Olivella (PhD, Northwestern) is a Barcelona GSE Affiliated Professor and Associate Professor at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. He is also the Research Director for the Heath Economics and Policy program at the GSE. This spring, Prof. Olivella was the co-author for an article on the following health economics topic-

Does having a voluntary private health insurance sector lead to costs savings?

In many countries, including the UK, a fraction of the population enjoys public and private health insurance covering a similar portfolio of services; hence, they have duplicate coverage. In principle, this could translate into lower healthcare costs in the public health system. Indeed, an emprirical study by Pau Olivella and Marcos Vera-Hernandez (UCL), suggests that people in the UK who buy their own private health insurance are more likely to use healthcare services than those who receive insurance as a fringe benefit of their job. For example, they are 50% more likely to be hospitalised than those who got insurance through their employer.

But are these individuals really in worse health? Analysis of data from the British Household Panel Survey shows they are not. Indeed, on average, the number of health problems faced by those who purchase private insurance is the same as for those who get insurance through the employer. In fact, the higher tendency of insurance buyers to use healthcare services comes from their preferences for health. In particular, they are 7 percentage points more likely to state that health is very important for them. Therefore, it all boils down to another empirical question for further investigation: what are the true drivers of healthcare costs?