If health care reform had happened a decade earlier, a lot of people might have been able to save some serious cash.

That's the conclusion of a recent study by Steven Hill, a senior economist at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a division within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In research published in a recent issue of the journal Health Affairs, Hill argued that if the Affordable Care Act had been in place between the years 2001 and 2008, people who held individual insurance during those years might have instead been able to take advantage of the ACA's generous benefits and save an average of $208 a year on out-of-pocket medical costs. (Hat tip to the New York Times.)

Two hundred bucks a year may not sound like a lot, but these days, at least, it could make a real difference. The economic downturn has left many Americans unable to pay for basic things like food and housing. Meanwhile, out-of-pocket health care costs are creeping upward even for people with insurance, as a growing number of company plans don't offer the kind of comprehensive coverage that they used to.

Hill found that if the Affordable Care Act, or something similar to it, had been around as early as 2001, it would have had the greatest impact on some of the most vulnerable people with individual insurance. According to the New York Times, approximately 11 million Americans under 65 have private individual insurance because they aren't covered by employer plans.

People with low incomes would have saved about $535 a year in out-of-pocket costs, Hill found, and people between the ages of 55 and 64 would have saved about $589 a year.