Decrease In Difficulty Paying Medical Bills Predates Full Implementation Of ACA: CDC

Despite the fact no one was covered by plans through the health insurance marketplace until 2014, an early release of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the percentage of people who were in families that had problems paying their medical bills decreased from the first six months of 2011 (21.7 percent) to the first six months of 2013 (19.8 percent). The CDC report was based on data from a National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). A “family” for purposes of the NHIS was generally defined as one or more persons living together in the same housing unit.

The CDC also reports that, although children aged zero through 17 years were more likely than adults aged 18 to 65 to be in families having trouble paying their medical bills during both six-month periods, that percentage decreased from 23.7 percent in the first half of 2011 to 21.3 percent in the first half of 2013.

A similar decrease was seen in the CDC’s analysis by gender of those with trouble paying medical bills. Of those under 65, females were more likely than males to be in families having problems paying medical bills both in the first six months of 2011 (22.6 percent for females versus 20.8 percent for males) and in the first six months of 2013 (20.5 percent for females versus 19.1 percent for males). The CDC notes that, for some reason, there was no significant difference between females and males who were in families having problems paying medical bills in the first six months of 2012.

It is possible that some of the improvement in the ability to pay medical bills is due to implementation of certain provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) during that time, such as coverage for those with preexisting conditions, elimination of lifetime limits on coverage, and coverage for children on their parents’ plans up to the age of 26. It appears from the NHIS data that those who had some kind of health coverage were the ones who were more likely to experience a positive change in their ability to pay their medical bills. In the first six months of 2011, 15.5 percent of those with private coverage who were under age 65 were in families that had trouble paying their medical bills. The percentage was 28.0 percent for persons with public coverage during that time. By the first six months of 2013, the percentages had dropped for those with private and public coverage to 14.1 percent and 24.7 percent, respectively.

By contrast, during the 30-month period covered by the NHIS, those under age 65 who were uninsured were more than twice as likely to be in families with trouble paying medical bills as were those with private coverage.

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