The number of Americans struggling with medical bills is actually decreasing

While the out of pocket costs of healthcare have increased for many in recent years due to shifts in the insurance market, it appears fewer Americans are struggling with medical bills than in previous years.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the percentage of Americans under 65 who reported that their family had trouble paying medical bills in the past 12 months was down to 16.2% in the first half of 2016.

This is down from 16.4% in 2015 and 21.3% from 2011, just five years prior.

According to the NCHS, the drop in the number of people having trouble with their bills coincides with the drop in the rate of Americans without health insurance, which hit is lowest rate ever in the first half of 2016.

“During this time period, there have been changes in the prevalence of uninsured persons,” said the report from the NCHS. “In the first 6 months of 2016, 28.1 million (10.4%) persons under age 65 were uninsured at the time of interview — 17.8 million fewer persons than in 2011 (17.3%) but only 0.3 million fewer persons than in 2015 (a non-significant difference).”

The drop off has also occurred since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

Now since this is simply bills, it does not include premium payments for insurers, which have gone up.

The data is part of the broader National Health Interview Health Survey, which interviewed nearly 600,000 Americans in a national representative sample and is generally considered the best data on the state of healthcare.

The decrease also came across the board, regardless of age and sex. Of note, the struggle to pay medical bills has decreased for people with all types of coverage: private insurance, public insurance, or no insurance at all.

Thus, this could be a combination of increased coverage as well as the generally improving labour market. With unemployment down and wage increasing at their fastest pace since the financial crisis, the income boost may be helping manage bills.

The decline was also most striking for those on the lower end of the income spectrum. According to the survey, the percentage of people living under the poverty threshold that have reported problems paying medical bills has decreased from 32.1% in 2011 to 23.0% in the first six months of 2016.

For those considered “near poor” by the NCHS — for 2016 this would be a single person earning between $11,770 and $23,540 annually — the measure has decrease from 34.6% in 2011 to 24.9% this year.

For the near poor, the extension of Medicaid under the ACA may have played a role in the decrease.

In terms of ethnicities, all groups saw their inability to pay medical bills decrease since 2011. Interestingly, however, the percentage of non-Hispanic blacks reporting trouble with bills ticked up slightly between 2015 and 2016.

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