Background: In Switzerland, age is the predominant driver of solidarity transfers in risk adjustment (RA). Concerns have been voiced regarding growing imbalances in cost sharing between young and old insured due to demographic changes (larger fraction of elderly >65 years and rise in average age). Particularly young adults aged 19–25 with limited incomes have to shoulder increasing solidarity burdens. Between 1996 and 2011, monthly inter generational solidarity payments for young adults have doubled from CHF 87 to CHF 182, which corresponds to the highest absolute transfer increase of all age groups.
Results: By constructing models for age-specific RA growth and for calculating the lifetime sum of RA transfers we investigated the causes and consequences of demographic changes on RA payments. The models suggest that the main driver for RA increases in the past was below average health care expenditure (HCE) growth in young adults, which was only half as high (average 2% per year) compared with older adults (average 4% per year). Shifts in age group distributions were only accountable for 2% of the CHF 95 rise in RA payments.
Despite rising risk adjustment debts for young insured the balance of lifetime transfers remains positive as long as HCE growth rates are greater than the discount rate used in this model (3%). Moreover, the life-cycle model predicts that the lifetime rate of return on RA payments may even be further increased by demographic changes.
Nevertheless, continued growth of RA contributions may overwhelm vulnerable age groups such as young adults. We therefore propose methods to limit the burden of social health insurance for specific age groups (e.g. young adults in Switzerland) by capping solidarity payments.
Conclusions: Taken together, our mathematical modelling framework helps to gain a better understanding of how demographic changes interact with risk adjustment and how redistribution of funds between age groups can be controlled without inducing further selection incentives. Those methods can help to construct more equitable systems of health financing in light of population aging.