ACA helps adults pay their medical bills

The number of adults struggling to pay their medical bills has fallen in the wake of the Affordable Care Act, according to a new report from the Urban Institute's Health Policy Center.

The proportion of adults who are struggling to pay their medical bills dropped from 22 percent in September 2013 to 17.3 percent as of last March, a decline of 4.7 percentage points, according to that report. That's a drop of 9.4 million Americans, or an overall decline of 21.3 percent.

There was a difference in this trend among states that expanded Medicaid and those that did not, although both enjoyed drops. In Medicaid expansion states, the percentage of adults struggling to pay medical bills dropped by 5.1 percentage points, to 15.4 percent, while in non-expansion states the drop was 4.2 percentage points, from 24.6 percent to 20.4 percent. That still means in non-Medicaid expansion states the number of residents who are having trouble paying their medical bills is nearly a third higher than in expansion states.

Meanwhile, actuarial firm Milliman recently found that many more insured Americans are struggling with a new household expense: Increasing deductibles, co-payments and other out-of-pocket costs that are rising rapidly. The cost of insuring a family of four is quickly approaching $25,000 a year, with out-of-pocket costs comprising more than a quarter of that number, according to Milliman.

A large proportion of U.S. households also continue to struggle with medical debt, Forbes.com noted. "It's encouraging to see that fewer families report problems with medical bills, but at the same time it's very clear that health insurance does not provide immunity from financial distress," Katherine Hempstead of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which helps fund the Urban Institute, told Forbes.com.

The Urban Institute study did note that those Americans most likely to struggle to pay their medical bills are enrolled in high-deductible health plans, although factors such as low incomes and chronic health issues also play roles.

Recent studies have suggested that healthcare price growth has moderated, which may also help consumers with paying off their medical bills over the longer term

To learn more:
- read the Urban Institute study 
- check out the Forbes.com article

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