Accounting-Based Regulation: Evidence from Health Insurers and the Affordable Care Act
The Accounting Review, Forthcoming
59 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2018 Last revised: 7 Apr 2020
Date Written: April 3, 2020
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires that insurers spend a minimum amount of their premium revenue on policyholder benefits. The Act specifies enforcement via a combination of insurer self-reporting, government examinations, and payment of policyholder rebates in cases where insurers fail to meet the required spending amount. We find that insurers’ reported estimates are consistently overstated in situations where more accurate estimates would have triggered rebate payments; publicly-traded insurers (particularly those exhibiting poor financial reporting quality) exhibit the strongest evidence of strategic over-estimating. In aggregate, we estimate that approximately 14 percent of insurers engage in strategic overestimates, and that insurer overestimates resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in underpaid policyholder rebates. Our study illustrates how a combination of regulatory design choices and lax oversight can weaken the effectiveness of accounting-based regulation and have substantial economic consequences.
Keywords: Earnings Management, Regulation, Health Insurance
JEL Classification: G18, G22, I13, I18, M41, M48
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation