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Study: Affordable Care Act Has Reduced Bankruptcy Risk

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Two-thirds of people who file for bankruptcy cite medical issues as key contributors to their financial downfall. (olgalionart/Pixabay)
Two-thirds of people who file for bankruptcy cite medical issues as key contributors to their financial downfall. (olgalionart/Pixabay)
June 3, 2020

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The greatest predictor of bankruptcy is lack of health care. But since the Affordable Care Act was adopted, bankruptcies have declined among people with intermittent health coverage, according to a new study.

When the ACA was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010, he said it would address the "crushing cost of health care" that was causing a "bankruptcy in America every 30 seconds."

Study author Michael Sousa, an associate professor at the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law, said Americans are twice as likely to file for bankruptcy if, for any reason, they lose health-insurance coverage "whether that is occasioned by a job loss or a divorce. But more so than not having coverage and more so than having full coverage, interruption in coverage is predictive of a bankruptcy."

The study, to be published in the Brooklyn Law Review, comes as the pandemic leaves tens of thousands of people unemployed and uninsured. The validity of the ACA is scheduled to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court later this year, as the Trump administration continues efforts to dismantle the health-care law.

Because U.S. health coverage typically is tied to employment, economists expect an increase in personal bankruptcies from historic job losses due to COVID-19. To stave off financial ruin for future families, Sousa said, he believes America's model for health coverage should be re-examined.

"If health insurance wasn't tied to employment, but was tied to some other mechanism," he said, "maybe you wouldn't see so much financial catastrophe when someone loses their job."

About 20 million Americans gained access to health insurance as a result of the ACA, increasing the number of people covered from 72% to 80%. At the same time, those with no coverage dipped from a high of about 12% down to 7%. Intermittent coverage also declined, from 17% to 13%.

The study is online at papers.ssrn.com.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM