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CDC: Fewer U.S. Families Struggling to Pay Medical Bills

More Americans are experiencing relief with medical bills, but gaps remain


THURSDAY, Dec. 1, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- The number of people in families having problems paying medical bills fell by nearly 13 million from 2011 through the first six months of 2016, according to a report published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

The NCHS researchers analyzed data from a national survey of 579,376 family members under the age of 65 in U.S. households. The survey asked people whether they or anyone in their family had problems paying or were unable to pay any medical bills in the past 12 months. Bills for doctors, dentists, hospitals, and other medical expenses were included, but not health insurance premiums or over-the-counter medicines.

The researchers found that, overall, the percentage of persons in families having problems paying medical bills decreased from 21.3 percent in 2011 to 16.2 percent in the first six months of 2016. In each year of the survey, the uninsured were more likely than those with public or private coverage to be in families having medical bill problems. Children were more likely than adults to be in families struggling with medical bills. Blacks were the most likely to be in families with bill-paying problems, while Asians were the least likely. The poor and near poor -- who live below, at, or slightly above the federal poverty level -- were roughly twice as likely as those who were not poor to be in families having problems paying medical bills.

People with out-of-pocket medical costs of $2,000 or more were roughly twice as likely as those spending less than $2,000 to report problems paying medical bills, the survey revealed. Even among people with incomes of 200 percent of the federal poverty level or greater, 12.6 percent reported problems paying medical bills in the first half of 2016. "There's no statistical change between 2015 and the first six months of 2016," report author Robin Cohen, Ph.D., an NCHS statistician, told HealthDay. "But when you look at the overall trend, there's still a linear decrease between 2011 and 2016."

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