Date of Award

May 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Member

Scott Barkowski

Committee Member

Scott R Templeton

Committee Member

Devon Gorry


Since its inception in March of 2010 there have been many studies regarding the effectiveness of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. One area of public health that has received limited attention in tandem with the ACA is mental health. To test the impact of the Affordable Care Act on mental health utilization rates and overall access among young adults, I used a difference-in-differences model focusing on the Dependent Care Expansion policy within the ACA. As mental health can be difficult to quantify, I used several measures from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) that identify psychological distress levels, suicidal ideation, receipt of mental health treatment, and major depressive episodes. For my primary analysis, I use survey respondents between the ages of 19 and 25 as the treatment group with a control group of individuals aged 26 to 29. My results show little evidence of an impact of the ACA Dependent Care Expansion on mental health utilization among young adults. Women aged 19 to 21 who perceived a need for mental health treatment saw increased use of mental health services following the law change which was significant at the ten percent level. The treatment of major depressive episodes via prescription medication also saw a positive and significant effect at the ten percent level. This held for both men and women when compared to a control group of 26 to 34 but not with a control group of 26 to 29. The results of this paper suggest the ACA has had limited meaningful effect on areas of mental health treatment among young adults due to the associated increased insurance having little to no effect on treatment and thus little to no effect on actual health outcomes. Given this outcome, law makers may wish to consider more focused or smaller scale policies in an effort to produce significant change. However, further research is required to draw a more thorough conclusion.



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