But Congress did ultimately chop off a leg when it repealed the mandate penalties in 2017 — and, despite these predictions, the Affordable Care Act still stands. New federal data and economic research show the law hasn’t collapsed or entered the “death spiral” that economists and health insurers projected.
Many experts now view the individual mandate as a policy that did little to increase health coverage — but did a lot to invite political backlash and legal challenges.
The newest evidence comes from census data released Tuesday, which shows health coverage in the United States held relatively steady in 2019, even though Congress’s repeal of the mandate penalties took effect that year.
“The stool might be a bit rocky, but you can get away with two legs,” said Evan Saltzman, a health economist at Emory University who studies the topic. “It’s like the table at the restaurant that is a little wobbly. You can still sit at it, even if it’s not quite as pleasant.”
That is from Sarah Kliff at the NYT, the whole piece is excellent and full of substance. And:
Mr. Saltzman went on to earn a doctorate in economics after his job at RAND, and focused his research on the mandate. He has found that the mandate isn’t a very effective tool for increasing enrollment. One recent paper of his estimated that eliminating the mandate penalties would reduce marketplace enrollment by 2 percent and increase premiums by 0.7 percent.
“My viewpoint on the mandate has changed,” he said. “Back in 2012, my sense was it was essential. The evidence indicates that the marketplaces are doing about the same as they were before the mandate was set to zero.”
Separately, in The New England Journal of Medicine last year, researchers concluded that “the individual mandate’s exemptions and penalties had little impact on coverage rates.”
To be clear, this surprises me too. Was it Ross Douthat who once said on Twitter that it was the Trump administration and the Republican courts that saved Obamacare? The Krugman line, pushed without qualification for over a decade (and with incessant moralizing), that all of the legs of the stool are necessary, seems…wrong. I would say be careful with this one, as sometimes elasticities don’t kick in for a long time (as maybe with the corporate income tax cuts as well?…let’s be consistent here…). Still, it seems that an update of priors is in order. As you will see in the piece, even Jonathan Gruber thinks so.
And here are useful comments from John Graves.