The individual welfare effects of the Affordable Care Act for previously uninsured adults

  • Naomi ZewdeEmail author
Research article


The Affordable Care Act (ACA) improved welfare by expanding, subsidizing, and standardizing healthcare coverage. At the same time, the law also penalizes the remaining uninsured and establishes a benchmark private policy that charges premiums and cost-sharing expenses in the non-group market. This paper introduces a conceptual and empirical framework for evaluating the net effects of ACA coverage expansions for the individual welfare of previously uninsured adults. Using restricted-access data from the 2010–2012 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, I evaluate the short-term welfare effect as a function of health and non-medical consumption. I simulate post-ACA insurance status then evaluate the change in expected medical consumption and the utility of consumption by estimating parameter values for a generalized gamma distribution of the ex-ante spread of healthcare and medical spending for each person. The ACA generates a modest net improvement in individual welfare on average (+ $91). While low-income individuals realize gains (+ $539), all other income-groups realize increasingly large losses. The uninsured majority (65%) realize average losses (− $158). Medicaid beneficiaries realize substantial gains (+ $1309). While in most specifications, exchange enrollees realize average gains (+ $146), just under a quarter (24%) realizes any improvement. The chronically-ill realize substantial gains (+ $1065). The non-chronically-ill majority (71%) realize average losses (− $312). Despite weakly lower risk premiums (− $28), medical spending increases in catastrophic scenarios on average. The ACA improves the welfare of some, especially the low-income and chronically-ill. Medicaid generates unequivocal gains for beneficiaries. Most previously uninsured adults remain uninsured, some of whom pay a penalty. The subsidized cost of ACA private insurance outweighs its benefits for most exchange enrollees.


Affordable Care Act Welfare Medicaid Marketplace Exchange Private insurance Deductibles 

JEL Classification

I13 I18 I38 


Supplementary material

10754_2019_9273_MOESM1_ESM.docx (42 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 34 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of Public Health and Health PolicyCity University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

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