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Jay Bhattacharya’s selective libertarianism:  on COVID and insurance rating

Summary:
A recent paper finds that drivers who are not vaccinated against COVID are substantially more likely to be involved in serious auto accidents than vaccinated drivers. In response, Jay Bhattacharya, an author of the Great Barrington Declaration and a prominent opponent of lockdowns and vaccine mandates, tweeted that the study “should not be used by automobile insurers as a basis to discriminate against the unvaxxed.” Well, why not?  One argument Bhattacharya makes is that the “result can’t be interpreted as a causal link between vax status and accident probability” and “Good or bad health could alter monthly premiums, whether any known mechanism links health status to bad driving.”  But many variables used to rate auto insurance are predictive of

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A recent paper finds that drivers who are not vaccinated against COVID are substantially more likely to be involved in serious auto accidents than vaccinated drivers.

In response, Jay Bhattacharya, an author of the Great Barrington Declaration and a prominent opponent of lockdowns and vaccine mandates, tweeted that the study “should not be used by automobile insurers as a basis to discriminate against the unvaxxed.”

Well, why not?  One argument Bhattacharya makes is that the “result can’t be interpreted as a causal link between vax status and accident probability” and “Good or bad health could alter monthly premiums, whether any known mechanism links health status to bad driving.”  But many variables used to rate auto insurance are predictive of accident risk but not causally related to accident risk.  Credit scores are used by insurers in many states, and are highly predictive of accident risk, but the relationship between a poor credit score and a higher accident propensity is almost surely not directly causal.  Presumably, people with bad credit scores have some other characteristic that also lead them to have an elevated accident risk, but the mechanism is unknown.  Geography also plays a large roll in auto insurance rating, but again the mechanism linking certain areas with higher accident rates is unclear and may not be directly causal. 

I suspect that vaccination status would be much less predictive of accident risk once a full complement of common rating variables is included in a statistical analysis.  But the bare fact that the mechanism linking vaccination status to accident risk is unclear and presumably not causal is not a generally accepted reason to prohibit using it as a rating variable.

Bhattachya continues:

The issue is philosophical, not statistical. Do we really want to permit discrimination against covid unvaxxed individuals? Why not account for natural immunity, which is surely also correlated?

I say we reject such irrational discrimination on principle.

Ok, so let’s discuss “philosophy”.  Reasonable people can argue about whether and when health status or (in this case) personal choices related to health should be allowed to influence insurance premiums.  But Bhattacharya claims to be a classical liberal or libertarian – at least when it suits his anti-lockdown, anti-vax mandate agenda.   Yet, when the possibility arises that insurance companies might charge unvaxxed people more for insurance, Bhattacharya opts for moralistic opposition to freedom of contract.  It sure seems like he’s just engaging in unprincipled identity politics.  The unvaxxed are his people, so he throws his libertarian principles under the bus to protect them from the possible free market consequences of their choices.

Disclosure:  for what it’s worth, I worked in the auto insurance industry for many years.

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