How Much Can Lower-Income Americans Pay for Health Insurance?

Creating guidelines for policy-makers to develop a standard of health insurance affordability

Field of Work: Helping policy-makers develop a standard of health insurance affordability

Problem Synopsis: Recent health care reform laws—including the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that was passed in March 2010, and the Massachusetts 2006 health reform legislation—have tended to mandate that citizens purchase private health insurance plans. The laws also provide subsidies to ensure that such plans are affordable for those with lower incomes. Even so, there has been no established definition of affordability.

Synopsis of the Work: During the 2009 debate on U.S. health care reform, researchers at Columbia University conducted two surveys—one of the general public and another of social services experts—with the goal of collecting and analyzing information that would help policy-makers develop a standard of health insurance affordability.

Key Findings: The surveys of the public and the experts found no general consensus about what constitutes affordable coverage. The divergence of opinions was greatest at higher income levels.