Out-of-Pocket Spending and Premium Contributions After Implementation of the Affordable Care Act

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Abstract

Importance

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was associated with a reduced number of Americans who reported being unable to afford medical care, but changes in actual health spending by households are not known.

Objectives

To estimate changes in household spending on health care nationwide after implementation of the ACA.

Design, Setting, and Participants

Population-based data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey from January 1, 2012, through December 31, 2015, and multivariable regression were used to examine changes in out-of-pocket spending, premium contributions, and total health spending (out-of-pocket plus premiums) after the ACA’s coverage expansions on January 1, 2014. The study population included a nationally representative sample of US adults aged 18 to 64 years (n = 83 431). In addition, changes were assessed in the likelihood of exceeding affordability thresholds for each outcome and spending changes for income subgroups defined under the ACA to determine program eligibility at 138% or less, 139% to 250%, 251% to 400%, and greater than 400% of the federal poverty level (FPL).

Exposure

Implementation of the ACA’s major insurance programs on January 1, 2014.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Mean individual-level out-of-pocket spending and premium payments and the percentage of persons experiencing high-burden spending, defined as more than 10% of family income for out-of-pocket expenses, more than 9.5% for premium payments, and more than 19.5% for out-of-pocket plus premium payments.

Results

In this nationally representative survey of 83 431 adults (weighted frequency, 49.1% men and 50.9% women; median age, 40.3 years; interquartile range, 28.6-52.4 years), ACA implementation was associated with an 11.9% decrease (95% CI, −17.1% to −6.4%; P < .001) in mean out-of-pocket spending in the full sample, a 21.4% decrease (95% CI, −30.1% to −11.5%; P < .001) in the lowest-income group (≤138% of the FPL), an 18.5% decrease (95% CI, −27.0% to −9.0%; P < .001) in the low-income group (139%-250% of the FPL), and a 12.8% decrease (95% CI, −22.1% to −2.4%; P = .02) in the middle-income group (251%-400% of the FPL). Mean premium spending increased in the full sample (12.1%; 95% CI, 1.9%-23.3%) and the higher-income group (22.9%; 95% CI, 5.5%-43.1%). Combined out-of-pocket plus premium spending decreased in the lowest-income group only (−16.0%; 95% CI, −27.6% to −2.6%). The odds of household out-of-pocket spending exceeding 10% of family income decreased in the full sample (odds ratio [OR], 0.80; 95% CI, 0.70-0.90) and in the lowest-income group (OR, 0.80; 95% CI, 0.67-0.97). The odds of high-burden premium spending increased in the middle-income group (OR, 1.28; 95% CI, 1.03-1.59).

Conclusions and Relevance

Implementation of the ACA was associated with reduced out-of-pocket spending, particularly for low-income persons. However, many of these individuals continue to experience high-burden out-of-pocket and premium spending. Repeal or substantial reversal of the ACA would especially harm poor and low-income Americans.

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