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Evidence keeps mounting that Affordable Care Act's individual mandate was a success

Former HHS Secretary Tom Price's statements and new research from the Commonwealth Fund suggest the ACA brought more young people to insurance pool.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Former HHS Secretary Tom Price. Credit: Alex Wong, Getty ImagesFormer HHS Secretary Tom Price. Credit: Alex Wong, Getty Images

When the Affordable Care Act was initially passed, some thought that many people, high-income men in good health particularly, would be driven from the insurance market and that would indicate a failure on the part of the ACA's individual mandate. Instead the opposite appears to be true. 

What's more, former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, MD, said publicly this week that when President Trump's tax bill, which ends the individual mandate in 2019, kicks in insurance prices are going to rise. 

Price's statement comes after the uninsured rate dropped substantially at least when it comes to one studied demographic during the law's first few years. Among 26-34-year-old men who earned more than 400 percent of the federal poverty level, the uninsured rate dropped from 11.7 percent in 2013 to 7.2 percent in 2015, according to new research by the Commonwealth Fund.

That's actually greater than the drop in the uninsured rate of older men. Those between 55-64 also saw a reduction, but only from 3.9 to 2.5 percent.

[Also: Former HHS Secretary Tom Price: Individual mandate repeal 'drives up costs' in ACA market]

Before the Affordable Care Act was enacted, young and healthy individuals in many states could purchase limited benefit packages at low premiums. The ACA mandated coverage and charged higher premiums to those not covered by federal subsidies. 

Young, healthy males shouldered higher costs due to regulations that shifted the brunt of the cost away from disadvantaged groups, such as the poor and the elderly. 

At the time of passage, some states had imposed rating rules for insurance coverage that sought to qualify more people for health subsidies, but the researchers found that when the ACA was passed, the percent of uninsured men that didn't qualify for subsidies dipped at about the same rate in all states, regardless of whether they had enacted those rules.

The positive impact on young, high-earning men was credited by authors to financial penalties and effective marketing, but the Trump administration has cut the ACA marketing budget by $90 million. Just $10 million is now earmarked for that purpose.

"There are many, and I'm one of them, who believe that [the tax bill] will harm the pool in the exchange market," Price said at the World Health Care Congress on Tuesday. "Because you'll likely have individuals who are younger and healthier not participating in that market, and consequently, that drives up the cost for other folks."

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com