Consequences of Dismantling the Affordable Care Act

Public Health Awakened members created a series of information briefs about what the federal administration’s 100 Days Plan in 2017 meant for health and equity. Download the original info briefs below.


What Are Possible Effects of Ending the Affordable Care Act?

The effects of ending the ACA — or even undoing key parts of it — depend on what Congress and the President pursue. In the interim, below are ideas of what will likely happen to health if the ACA is dismantled, and how certain communities will be inequitably impacted:

  • Up to 30 million people are estimated to lose health insurance coverage, with people of color and low-income people among the hardest hit. This includes more than 4 million children and 7 million parents (Urban Institute, 2016; Kaiser Family Foundation, 2016a; Kaiser Family Foundation, 2016b).
  • People with medical coverage will pay even more for care. The ACA limits out-of-pocket costs and prohibits lifetime caps on insurance company payments for medical care. Repealing key parts of the ACA — could end these protections for people with individual and employer sponsored insurance, substantially increasing out-of-pocket costs and premiums for individuals and families (Health Affairs blog, 2017).
  • Insurance premiums will cost more. The ACA provides tax credits and subsidies for purchasing health insurance, and mandates coverage for all U.S. citizens. If the individual mandate and tax credits are dismantled, premiums will rise and cause healthy people to drop coverage, likely destabilizing the private insurance market and leading to substantially higher costs for all (American Academy of Actuaries, 2016).
  • Protections for people with pre-existing conditions—such as diabetes, asthma, and cancer—will be weakened or eliminated. Up to 52 million people with pre-existing conditions may suffer if Congress and the President undo this piece of the ACA. Insurers will be allowed to charge more or deny coverage outright for people with a pre-existing health condition who have any gap in coverage, reverting to a standard practice before the ACA (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2016a).
  • Everyday women’s health needs will become pre-existing conditions, which will get less coverage or suddenly cost more. Pregnancy, a history of domestic violence, or experiences with depression could be among the conditions considered pre-existing. Health insurers could also charge women more than men for their insurance by using “gender rating”, which the ACA banned. Preventive services, including birth control, may no longer be covered (National Women’s Law Center, 2016).
  • Young adults will lose coverage. The provision allowing young adults to remain as dependents on their parents’ health insurance until age twenty-six could be eliminated. Because of this provision nearly three million young adults gained insurance and improved access to care. Without this provision, millions of young adults will lose coverage and be unable to buy affordable insurance (Health Affairs, 2013).
  • Tens of thousands of people will die prematurely due to lack of access. Removing insurance coverage for between 20-30 million people with no replacement could mean an estimated 40,000 deaths (Journal of the American Medical Association, 2015; The Washington Post, 2017).
  • Millions of people will lose jobs. Repealing the ACA would cost an estimated 2.6 million healthcare jobs. Economic projections estimate that states’ gross products could decrease by almost $1.5 trillion between 2019 and 2023 (Commonwealth Fund, 2017; Milken Institute School of Public Health, 2017).
  • It will be harder to keep people out of the doctor’s office and community health will get worse. The ACA established the Prevention and Public Health Fund (Prevention Fund), the only dedicated source of federal funding for prevention. This fund allows local health departments to create healthy policies, neighborhoods, and services that keep communities healthy and safe in the first place, helping to avoid costly treatments and long-term care. Dismantling the Prevention Fund would result in every state losing millions of dollars, thus halting and potentially reversing gains made by communities across the country in tobacco use prevention, healthy eating, and active living, among other efforts to improve community health and wellbeing (Trust for America’s Health, 2017a; Trust for America’s Health, 2017b).
  • Agencies fighting diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, and lead poisoning will be gutted, along with those that promote immunizations. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the part of the federal government that protects the US from health, safety, and security threats — will lose up to 12% of its budget if Congress and the President repeal the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which is part of the ACA. A repeal would cut vaccine programs by more than 50% and disease tracking by 30%, hampering the response to threats like Zika and foodborne illnesses like salmonella. It would also diminish the ability to track and prevent lead poisoning, like in Flint, MI (American Public Health Association, 2017).
  • Federal deficits will increase by billions. Federal deficits will grow by about $353 billion over a decade if Congress and the President repeal the ACA. (Congressional Budget Office, 2015).
  • Community health centers will face challenges sustaining their operations. Community health centers serving low-income, uninsured, and rural populations — as well as communities of color — will experience severe financial shocks if Medicaid expansion is dismantled and federal health center grant funding from the ACA ends. Nearly three times as many people gained insurance through Medicaid expansion compared to the exchanges. Undoing the expansion will result in reduced access to vital comprehensive primary care, behavioral health, dental, and case management services for medically underserved and low-income communities across the nation. (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2017; The Hill, 2017; KQED State of Health, 2017, Kaiser Health News, 2017).
  • Safety-net hospitals will reduce services or close. Hospitals serving low-income and uninsured populations could lose as much as $41 billion. These dramatic funding cuts will worsen access to care for already underserved and vulnerable communities, and likely put the health of millions at risk (American Hospital Association, 2016, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2017).


What Can Health Departments and Professionals Do?

  • Attend Congressional Town Hall events and community meetings. When members of Congress host town hall events and community meetings in home districts starting February 17, participate and ask tough questions about their plans to protect the ACA. Identify yourself as a public health professional. If they are on record to repeal the ACA, ask how they are going to manage the loss of coverage, loss of prevention funding, and loss of life that will result.
  • Reach out to elected officials — repeatedly and often. Write letters with health colleagues through professional organizations like the American Medical Association and American Public Health Association or call and visit the offices of elected officials at the Congressional and local levels. Inform them about what pending decisions will mean for health and equity. The content in this brief can serve as a starting point.
  • Hold free workshops for community members. Public health departments, community organizations, and non-profits could host workshops helping people understand the ACA and how it benefits them as individuals and communities. Host a workshop so community members know where you stand on the issues and to address their concerns.
  • Publicly state or visibly reaffirm your department’s position. Illustrate how Congress and the President’s pending actions will help or harm health. Declare health departments a safe space for all. Or make the department’s voice heard on another related issue. The point is for public health to be vocal in protecting and promoting health. For example, the Minnesota Department of Human Services launched a webpage about potential impacts of repealing the ACA, including loss of health care coverage for more than 300,000 Minnesotans.
  • Get proactive — call for strengthening the ACA. We can improve the ACA. Ideas include:
    • providing higher subsidies to people in low and middle-income households
    • providing more subsidies such as fixing what is known as the “family glitch” that blocks an estimated 4.7 million families from coverage
    • providing a publicly insured plan in all statesthat competes directly with other options for private health insurance coverage, in the hopes of driving down premiums and underlying health care costs

Read up on the evidence, become part of the discussion, and join others in advocating for strengthening instead of dismantling the Act. Put another choice on the table. For ideas to consider about how to improve the ACA, see The Century Foundation, 2015. Look for opportunities to partner with other groups or agencies with similar goals.