In the years before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) the uninsured population peaked at just over 50 million people. It fell sharply when the main provisions of the ACA took effect, falling to less than 28 million in recent quarters. However, in its effort to make America great again, the Republicans expect to raise the number of uninsured back above 50 million. Serious analysis of their plan shows that they have a good shot at meeting this goal.
While the Republicans are in principle keeping some of the provisions of the ACA that were responsible for lowering the number of uninsured, this effect will be temporary. In most cases, the situation for most people not covered by their employers will be the same or worse than before the ACA took effect.
For example, the plan leaves in place the expansion of Medicaid through 2020. This should be long enough so that most currently serving Republican governors will not have to deal with the effect of the elimination of this provision. After 2020 people benefiting from the expansion will be allowed to remain on Medicaid, but new people will not be added. Since people tend to shift on and off Medicaid (something rarely understood by reporters who cover the ACA), after two or three years the vast majority of the people who benefited from the expansion will no longer be getting Medicaid. By 2025, the impact of the expansion on the number of the uninsured will be trivial.
The plan also allows insurers to charge people with pre-existing conditions higher rates, if they allow their insurance to lapse. While the provision allowing people to avoid being penalized for pre-existing conditions, if they maintain continuous coverage, may appear to provide protection, in reality this is not likely to be the case. Before the ACA workers were allowed to keep employer based coverage for a substantial period of time after they left their employer under COBRA. The take up rate under this law was always low, primarily because most workers could not afford to keep their coverage once they left their jobs. This is likely to be the case when the Republican plan takes effect as well.
The Republican plan does provide modest subsidies to people for buying insurance, but the impact of these subsidies will be swamped by the rise in health care costs. The subsidies would be $2000 a year for those under 30 and $4,000 a year for those over age 60. According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services the average cost of health care per person was $9,100 in 2013. Per person costs are projected to rise to $15,800 by 2025.
The Republicans will be further helped in their plans to raise the uninsured population back above 50 million with their proposals for segmenting the market by encouraging healthy people to buy low-cost catastrophic health care plans. The Republicans propose to raise caps on health savings accounts, which will give healthy people a strong incentive to buy plans with very high deductibles. As a result, plans that have lower deductibles will have a less healthy population and therefore be very expensive. This should make it more difficult for people with health conditions to afford insurance.
On net, it seems likely the Republican proposal will succeed in raising the number of uninsured above the pre-ACA level. Since this seems the likely outcome, it is reasonable to assume that it is the intention of the Republican designers of the bill.