How Would State-Based Individual Mandates Affect Health Insurance Coverage and Premium Costs?

How Would State-Based Individual Mandates Affect Health Insurance Coverage and Premium Costs?



  • Issue: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 eliminated the financial penalty of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. States could reinstate a similar penalty to encourage health insurance enrollment, ensuring broad sharing of health care costs across healthy and sick populations to stabilize the marketplaces.
  • Goal: To provide state-by-state estimates of the impact on insurance coverage, premiums, and mandate penalty revenues if the state were to adopt an individual mandate.
  • Methods: Urban Institute’s Health Insurance Policy Simulation Model (HIPSM) is used to estimate the coverage and cost impacts of state-specific individual mandates. We assume each state adopts an individual mandate similar to the ACA’s.
  • Findings and Conclusion: If all states implemented individual mandates, the number of uninsured would be lower by 3.9 million in 2019 and 7.5 million in 2022. On average, marketplace premiums would be 11.8 percent lower in 2019. State mandate penalty revenues would amount to $7.4 billion and demand for uncompensated care would be $11.4 billion lower. The impact on coverage and on premiums varies in significant ways across states. For example, in 2019, the number of people uninsured would be 19 percent lower in Colorado and 10 percent lower in California if they implemented their own mandates. With mandates in place, average premiums would be 4 percent lower in Alaska and 15 percent lower in Washington.


One of the Affordable Care Act’s central aims was to reform insurance markets by sharing health care risks and costs more broadly across the healthy and sicker populations. Strategies to accomplish this goal include modified community rating, guaranteed issue, and benefit standards, with the greatest changes made to nongroup insurance markets. Spreading risks tends to decrease costs for people with medical needs and increase them for healthy people. As a consequence, financial incentives to become and remain insured regardless of health status are necessary to ensure the risk pool is large and stable. The ACA established the individual responsibility requirement — also referred to as the individual mandate — to require most people to enroll in minimum essential health care coverage or pay a tax penalty. The Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 sets the ACA’s penalties for individuals who remain uninsured to $0, beginning in 2019.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that eliminating the individual mandate penalties would lead to an additional 3 million uninsured people in 2019.1 It also estimated that premiums in the nongroup insurance market will increase by 15 percent between 2018 and 2019. Because of the elimination of mandate penalties, fewer healthy people are estimated to enroll in nongroup insurance; thus, the average nongroup insurance enrollee will be more likely to have higher health care expenses. As a result, premiums will be higher. Other pending changes, such as expansion of short-term, limited-duration plans, are expected to worsen the nongroup risk pool and increase premiums as well. The changes, taken together, may lead to some insurers ending or limiting their participation in ACA-compliant nongroup insurance markets.2 Acting on these concerns, some states have considered or passed legislation to implement state-specific individual mandates.3 New Jersey enacted its individual mandate on May 30, 2018;4 Massachusetts did so in 2006, well before the passage of the ACA.

This analysis provides estimates of the effects of state-specific individual mandates on insurance coverage, nongroup insurance premiums, federal and state government spending (including penalty revenue to states), and demand for uncompensated care. Findings are provided nationally as if every state adopted its own individual mandate and for 48 states and the District of Columbia (but excluding Massachusetts and New Jersey because they have their own mandates under current law), assuming each state adopts a penalty structure similar to that of the ACA. We do not anticipate every state taking this approach, but present findings this way for ease of exposition and as a reference point for understanding the effects of the mandate. (A full description of our methods is available below.)

Key Findings

Our central estimates assume that state mandates are implemented in each state as soon as the federal penalties are eliminated in 2019. The effect of a mandate grows over time as health care costs grow relative to incomes; we show some of our results in 2022 to illustrate this. State mandates would have two central effects. First, more people would retain insurance coverage to avoid the penalty. Second, premiums in the nongroup market would be lower because the insurance pool will not lose healthy people that would otherwise drop their coverage without a mandate. As a result, even more people will enroll because of the lower premiums.