Obamacare: no reasonable way to estimate saved or lost lives

Has anyone estimated the lives saved or lost under the Affordable Care Act relative to the healthcare situation before it was passed? Lives could be saved due to the increased number of Americans covered, the increased quality of the plans, or coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions. Lives could be lost due to negative changes in existing health plans or economic loss of employment opportunities brought on by the law. What is the best estimate of the net lives saved or lost?

Numbers Guy

Dear Numbers Guy,

Estimating this would be very difficult, and loaded with big assumptions.  For example, people who are uninsured for health tend to die younger.  This is not necessarily because of their access to medical care; it’s more about all of the other things in their lives, on top of having no health insurance (such as unsteady employment, living in poor conditions, food insecurity, etc.).  Health insurance won’t single-handedly save their life or make it significantly better, but they might get a bit more medical care along the way.

Their early death means that less labor is available to the market, though as you point out some jobs may not be created because of the added costs of health insurance.  On the bright side, some people will have better health and be able to work as a result of getting medical care.  Whether the jobs are there for them is another issue.

A realistic estimate would have to take all of these things into account.  After all of that work, no one would agree on what the assumptions should have been — so there’s no hero’s glory in it for anyone.  That’s not to say that someone won’t put out some sort of number and headlines will roll.  It just won’t be me making that estimate.

Linda Riddell

About Linda Riddell

A published author and health policy analyst with 25 years’ experience, Linda Riddell's goal is to alleviate the widespread ailment of not knowing what your health plan can do for you.