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Anran Li (she/her)

PhD Candidate in the Department of Economics

Anran Li (she/her)

Northwestern is highly regarded in my research area — the intersection of industrial organization and healthcare markets — and I am sufficiently challenged by faculty and peers in both fields.”

Anran Li recently completed her PhD in the Department of Economics in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Her dissertation seeks the answer to why the US healthcare system underprovides preventive care, such as vaccines, cancer screenings, and chronic disease management. Anran has accepted a tenure-track position in the Department of Economics at Cornell University beginning in Fall 2024. 

How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience? 
My research examines the functioning of healthcare markets. I study the behaviors of different agents, such as insurance companies, medical providers, and consumers. I examine market failures, i.e., why the healthcare market is not functioning as well as we would want it to be, and study potential policy solutions. 

My dissertation asks why the U.S. healthcare system underprovides preventive care, such as vaccines, cancer screenings, and chronic disease management. We see long-term health benefits in patients receiving these services, yet they are still not utilized to the level that medical professionals would recommend. This market friction is what’s called “investment externalities”, which are created by customer turnover. 

If I’m an insurer investing in preventive care and wellness programs, and my enrollee switches to a competitor, the competitor will benefit from the enrollee’s reduced medical costs resulting from the wellness programs I funded. These investment externalities discourage insurers from making preventive investments. My dissertation presents novel evidence of these investment externalities in health insurance, develops a framework to analyze their impact on insurer and consumer behavior, and examines policy solutions to address the underinvestment problem. 

Tell us what inspired your research and/or work. 
Coming from overseas, I was surprised by how hard it is to get doctor appointments, schedule annual physician exams, and other preventive care procedures in the U.S. I started to wonder if there are any systematic reasons, or market failures, that result in this problem. 

What do you find both rewarding and challenging about your research and/or work? 
Finding a great research question is both rewarding and challenging in the field of economics. A great question needs to both bring some new economic insight and be relevant for real world policy discussions. Moreover, you need to find relevant settings and data to make it feasible to answer. But once you identify a good question and prove the feasibility, researching the new question is a lot of fun. 

What is the biggest potential impact or implication of your work? 
I hope my work will impact policymaking and decisions in the healthcare market. For example, the Affordable Care Act mandates private health insurers to fully cover certain preventive care services at no cost to patients. But this requirement was struck down in March 2023 and is under an appeal process. Through developing a comprehensive model of insurers' and consumers' behavior, my dissertation shows that mandating preventive care coverage is among the most effective policy tools to save money. I hope my work helps to inform the policy discussion on how to address the underinvestment issue and improve the population’s health in the long run. 

Why Northwestern? 
Northwestern is highly regarded in my research area—the intersection of industrial organization and healthcare markets—and I am sufficiently challenged by faculty and peers in both fields. I also love the city of Evanston. It is quiet and convenient, which provides a high quality of life. 

How do you unwind after a long day? 
I like swimming, cooking, and watching YouTube videos on how others cook! 

Tell us about a current achievement or something you're working on that excites you. 
I learned how to swim at Northwestern! I took the group lesson first to learn the free style and then taught myself breaststroke. I am now teaching myself the backstroke. It was a lot of fun. I was very afraid of water at first, but this whole experience helped me gain confidence in myself, plus, it gives me a new hobby to enjoy! 

Publish Date: June 11, 2024 

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