Thesis

Impacts of the Affordable Care Act on life satisfaction levels with a focus on mental health

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often shortened to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is a federal statute that represented the most significant regulatory overhaul and expansion of health coverage since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. Yet the act remains controversial. Indeed, the current federal administration has taken various steps to constrain it. While the debate on effects of the ACA are still in question, data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) suggests that since implementation until 2016, more than 20 million Americans have received health coverage because of ACA. In addition, information from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index (WBI) has shown a dramatic and steady decline in the uninsured rate since the 2012-2013 baseline period before ACA’s major coverage provisions took place. It is therefore important now more than ever to study the varying effects of ACA not only at the federal level but in California as well. Given ongoing efforts by various parties to undermine the ACA, it is essential to know what the impact could be. Furthermore, arguments in support of ACA could be used in the future to establish state laws that keep some provisions or version of ACA in place in California. Prior research has shown that health insurance coverage is linked to life satisfaction. I extend this research and delve further into the topic by assessing whether or not increased coverage from the Affordable Care Act led to increased life satisfaction and in particular, the improvement of mental health. Drawing from BRFSS data, the largest continuously conducted health survey system in the world, I investigated this topic using multiple regression analysis. Based on my data and the results from my regressions, I found that the number of individuals with some form of health coverage increased from pre-ACA implementation in 2010 to post-ACA implementation in 2016. I also found that life satisfaction levels increased during these years. When it comes to mental health, I found there was an increase in the percentage of respondents that experienced zero days of mental health distress. Along these lines, the percentage of respondents that experienced some mental distress, either 6-15 days or 16-30 days both decreased from 2010 to 2016. When looking at the regression results, I found that individuals with health care coverage were more satisfied with life. As expected, I found that good health led to higher life satisfaction values and the same to be true for mental health. The results in this study support the expansion of health care coverage that has been obtained through the ACA, and emphasize the importance of modernizing policies in the world of mental health. With nearly one-third of those covered under ACA exhibiting an existing mental disorder, policies at both the state and federal level need to encompass solutions to resolve the growing mental health disorder issues in the nation.

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