CDC: Fewer Americans encounter medical bill problems

Fewer American families are experiencing difficulties paying medical bills, according to a study released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

In the first six months of 2012, 20.3 percent (54.2 million) of persons under age 65 were in families that had problems paying medical bills, down from 21.7 percent (57.8 million) in the first half of 2011.

The study, based on interviews with 155,321 people between January 2011 and June 2012, defined a "family" as an individual or a group of two or more related persons living together in the same housing unit.

Experts attribute a stabilizing U.S. economy, less healthcare utilization and decelerating healthcare cost growth to the drop in medical bill problems, Kaiser Health News reported. Moreover, the extension of coverage to young adults and the elimination of lifetime insurance caps under the Affordable Care Act may have helped ease the financial burden of healthcare, the article noted.

The NCHS study also found uninsured persons under 65 were most likely to report problems paying medical bills (36.6 percent) in the first half of 2012. What's more, that figure is up from 35.7 percent a year earlier.

Meanwhile, 14 percent of those who reported problems had private insurance and 25.6 percent had government-funded coverage.

During the 18-month period, the uninsured and those with government-funded coverage were roughly twice as likely as the privately insured to struggle with covering medical expenses. Similarly, American families that were poor and near poor were two times more likely as those who were not poor to encounter difficulties paying their medical bills.

"I would expect that with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act that you should see some decrease for the poor and near poor in terms of affordability," Peter Cunningham, a senior fellow at the Center for Studying Health System Change, told Businessweek. "Affordability of healthcare is still a pretty substantial problem."

For more:
- here's the study (.pdf)
- read the KHN article
- here's the Businessweek article