Fewer Americans overwhelmed by medical bills, report says

April 9, 2014 by Karen Pallarito, Healthday Reporter
Fewer americans overwhelmed by medical bills: report
Reduced use of medical care, early health care reforms may be easing financial worries, experts say.

(HealthDay)—While millions of Americans still feel hamstrung by medical expenses, a new government report shows that some people are getting relief.

The share of people under age 65 in families reporting problems paying in the past 12 months dropped from 21.7 percent in the first half of 2011 to 19.8 percent in the same period in 2013, according to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Almost 5 million fewer people than 2-1/2 years ago are in families having problems paying medical bills," said report co-author Robin Cohen, a statistician with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That still leaves 52.8 million people who say they or members of their families were having problems paying medical bills, or were unable to pay those bills, in the past year.

The report draws data from the long-running National Health Interview Survey, which collects health information from family members in each surveyed household. The new analysis is based on household interviews with nearly 227,000 people.

The decline in medical bill-paying pressures over the study period may, in part, reflect an improvement in the nation's economy, said Cheryl Fish-Parcham, private insurance program director at Families USA, a nonprofit health care advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

"In 2011, we were still in the deeper part of the recession, and so people were still losing employer-sponsored coverage," Fish-Parcham said.

"When people know they don't have coverage, they tend to go to the doctor less," and as a result, "they don't have medical bills," she explained.

The easing of bill-paying difficulties may also reflect early market reforms under the Affordable Care Act, said Sabrina Corlette, senior research fellow and project director at Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

Although it's hard to say what proportion of the decline can be attributed to the 2010 health-reform legislation, a ban on lifetime coverage limits under most health plans and a reduction in annual limits (which were phased out completely this year) may have played a role, she said.

One early provision of the Affordable Care Act, allowing young adults to stay on their parents' health plans in many cases, may also have provided some relief, she noted.

The CDC report notes a slight decline—from 15.7 percent to 14.1 percent—in the share of people under 65 with private coverage whose families report medical bill-paying problems.

It shows a somewhat sharper decline in bill-paying worries among people with public coverage. Those reporting problems dropped from 28 percent in early 2011 to 24.7 percent in early 2013.

Among children through age 17, the percentage of those in families struggling to pay medical bills decreased from 23.7 percent to 21.3 percent during the study period.

Health insurance experts say those numbers may reflect an increase in public coverage, such as Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.

It helps to have health coverage, but it doesn't completely solve people's bill-paying problems, Fish-Parcham noted.

Even with public coverage, "you may still have a deductible, you may still have co-payments, you may still have uncovered ," she said.

The report does not reflect the broader health reforms that only took effect this January, Corlette noted. These includes coverage of a minimum set of benefits, caps on out-of-pocket spending and Medicaid expansions in 26 states and the District of Columbia.

As a result of those broader reforms, some 10 million Americans, by the Obama administration's count, have gained coverage through private plans and Medicaid.

"Those folks are going to have an easier time paying medical bills, and then the coverage that they have, particularly in the private market, is more generous than what was previously available," Corlette said.

Explore further: Fewer families struggling to pay medical bills: CDC

More information: Visit USA.gov for help paying medical bills.

Related Stories

Fewer families struggling to pay medical bills: CDC

June 4, 2013
(HealthDay)—The proportion of families in the United States that can't keep up with their medical bills declined between 2011 and 2012, according to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But ...

Medical bills are a burden for more than one in four families, CDC says

January 29, 2014
A crushing medical bill can cause money problems not just for a cash-strapped patient but for his or her entire family. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that more than one in four U.S. families ...

One in five US adults will have trouble paying medical bills

July 11, 2013
(HealthDay)—About one in five U.S. adults will have problems paying health care bills in 2013, including about 10 million adults with year-round insurance coverage, according to a report published by the American Medical ...

Almost 15 percent of Americans still uninsured, report finds

December 17, 2013
(HealthDay)—As the final phase of the Affordable Care Act, sometimes called "Obamacare," begins, a new report shows that more than 45 million Americans still don't have health insurance.

Many Texans struggling to pay for health service as Affordable Care Act is about to launch

February 19, 2014
Many Texans were struggling to pay for basic health services on the eve of the launch of the Affordable Care Act's Health Insurance Marketplace, according to a report released today by Rice University's Baker Institute for ...

'Obamacare' helping young adults get health insurance: report

December 11, 2013
(HealthDay)—More young adults have health insurance now than three years ago. And many of them are getting that coverage under a provision of the Affordable Care Act that allows them to stay on their parents' health policies ...

Recommended for you

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

High-dose vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles for children

July 18, 2017
Giving children high doses of vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles, a new study has found.

Scientists develop new supplement that can repair, rejuvenate muscles in older adults

July 18, 2017
Whey protein supplements aren't just for gym buffs according to new research from McMaster university. When taken on a regular basis, a combination of these and other ingredients in a ready-to-drink formula have been found ...

Study: Eating at 'wrong time' affects body weight, circadian rhythms

July 18, 2017
A new high-precision feeding system for lab mice reinforces the idea that the time of day food is eaten is more critical to weight loss than the amount of calories ingested.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.