Assoc. Prof. Jonathan Kolstad honored as “40 Under 40” business leader

Assoc. Prof. Jonathan Kolstad, who uses big data and behavioral economics to investigate the complexities of the health care system, has been named a “40 Under 40” business leader by the San Francisco Business Times.

The award honors 40 young leaders who “exemplify the creativity, passion and perseverance that have come to characterize the Bay Area,” according to the publication. The awards were published March 5.

Since joining the Haas Economics & Policy Group in 2015, Kolstad has become known as both a cutting-edge researcher and a popular teacher. His MBA courses include “Health Economics and Policy” and “Big Data and Better Decisions”—a new class that gives students advanced training in how to analyze and use large-scale data.

As a researcher, Kolstad employs machine learning and economic analysis through a behavioral lens. His studies demonstrate that conventional wisdom can lead businesses and policy makers astray when it comes to health care.

For example, he has studied the mistakes people make when they choose health insurance plans that lead to large financial losses and worse health coverage. He found that high deductible health plans—often thought to be a silver bullet to improve efficiency—actually lead to large reductions in high value and low value care, particularly for the sickest enrollees.

Kolstad is particularly interested in finding new models and unique data that account for the complexity of health care markets, including how health reform impacts hospital care, the labor market, and insurance premiums. In one study, he looked at what motivates doctors, and found that feedback can be more important than pay.

He has also combined his passion for solving thorny academic problems with developing real-world tools that help people avoid costly mistakes when choosing health insurance. He founded a startup, Picwell, to provide personalized recommendations for insurance. The tool now provides more than 1 million recommendations per year from Medicare to state exchanges and employer-based insurance.

In addition to his teaching and research, Kolstad serves as a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and co-leads a health care initiative at the UC Berkeley Opportunity Lab that uses data from private firms and government to understand population health and its role in inequality. He holds a PhD from Harvard University and a BA from Stanford University.