Despite Progress, Medical Bills a Burden for Many

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THE FAMILIES OF ABOUT 1 in 7 people in the U.S. had trouble paying their medical bills over the past year in 2018, down from about 1 in 5 in 2011, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As the cost of health care continues to dominate political discussions and families’ financial concerns, the new data offers a look at who is struggling and how their circumstances have changed in recent years. The CDC report indicates that in 2018, 14.2% of people said their families struggled to pay medical expenses in recent months – equivalent to tens of millions of people.

It’s a similar share as in 2017 but down from 19.7% in 2011. Among people under 65, those who had no insurance saw the biggest gains since 2011, despite remaining the most likely to have a hard time paying their medical bills.

Between 2011 and 2018, the share of people whose families struggled with medical bills fell from 35.7% to 27.7% among the uninsured, from 27.8% to 20.1% among those with public coverage like Medicaid and from 14.9% to 11.9% among people with private insurance, a look at new and previous CDC data indicates.

“Significant expenses for one family member may adversely affect the whole family,” researchers with the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics wrote. “People who are in families with problems paying medical bills may experience serious financial consequences, such as having problems with paying for food, clothing, or housing, and filing for bankruptcy.”

In 2018, 7.2% of people delayed seeking medical care due to costs, while 4.7% skipped care altogether, according to a separate CDC report. Rates were much higher among people without insurance.

Families with children under 18 were also more likely to struggle to pay their medical bills, the new data shows, and there were major disparities along racial and ethnic lines. In 2018, 20.6% of black people were in families that had trouble paying their medical bills, compared with rates of 15.6% among Hispanics, 13% among whites and 7.1% among Asians.

Among adults 65 and older, those insured through Medicare and those dually enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid were more likely to have trouble paying their bills than people with private coverage or Medicare Advantage plans.

“Health insurance coverage status … may also impact the ability to afford health care costs,” researchers wrote…Read more>>