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Starting this October, tens of millions will be choosing health coverage on a state or federal health insurance exchange as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. We examine how well people make these choices, how well they think they do, and what can be done to improve these choices. We conducted 6 experiments asking people to choose the most cost-effective policy using websites modeled on current exchanges. Our results suggest there is significant room for improvement. Without interventions, respondents perform at near chance levels and show a significant bias, overweighting out-of-pocket expenses and deductibles. Financial incentives do not improve performance, and decision-makers do not realize that they are performing poorly. However, performance can be improved quite markedly by providing calculation aids, and by choosing a "smart" default. Implementing these psychologically-based principles could save purchasers of policies and taxpayers approximately 10 billion dollars every year.


Choice architecture, healthcare, decision making, Affordable Care Act, insurance decisions

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PLOS ONE, Dec. 18, 2013