Study: Health Care Reform Likely to Reduce Bankruptcy and Catastrophic Debt


Today’s email brings word of an interesting new paper from Bhashkar Mazumder of the Chicago Fed and Sarah Miller of Notre Dame. They set out to measure the effect of the Massachusetts health care reform on bankruptcy and personal debt, a subject that’s topical for a number of reasons:

  • The Massachusetts plan is quite similar to Obamacare, so results from this study are suggestive of the impact that Obamacare will eventually have.
  • One of the primary purposes of universal health insurance is to relieve the financial stress of large unpaid medical bills.
  • Massachusetts is a good case study because its reform affected everyone, not just those below the poverty line.

The authors take advantage of the fact that health care reform had bigger effects on some groups than others. Most middle-aged people, for example, were already insured, so the Massachusetts reform affected them only modestly. Conversely, young people had relatively low insurance rates, so they were more heavily affected. Ditto for counties, some of which had higher initial rates of uninsurance than others.

The study exploits a very large data set of consumer finance based on reporting from credit bureaus, which provided a sample of nearly 400,000 individuals to look at. Its conclusion is unsurprising:

We find that the reform significantly improved credit scores, reduced the total amount past due, reduced the fraction of debt past due, and reduced the probability of personal bankruptcy. We find particularly pronounced reductions in the probability of having a large delinquency of over $5,000. These effects tend to be larger among individuals whose credit scores were low at the time of the reform, suggesting that the greatest gains in financial security occurred among those who were already struggling financially.

The charts below, excerpted from the study, illustrate the effect of health care reform, which was implemented in the period shown by the yellow bars. Despite the severe recession that followed, the amount of current debt stayed pretty flat while the amount of debt more than $10,000 past due declined sharply. Obamacare is not as universal as the Massachusetts reform, so its effects will probably be less pronounced. Nonetheless, it will not only provide routine health care for millions of Americans who aren’t currently getting it, it will also make their lives far less financially precarious. That sounds like a win to me.

$500,000 MATCHING GIFT

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones: A special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of the huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.