By Dennis Thompson
WEDNESDAY, February 12, 2020 (HealthDay News) – The number of people struggling to pay their medical bills declined dramatically over the past decade, as the Low Price Health Care Law expanded health insurance coverage and Financial protection for the sick.
The percentage of families who had trouble paying medical expenses in the previous year decreased from approximately 20% in 2011 to 14% in 2018, according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) of the Centers for Health US Disease Control and Prevention. UU.
It is very likely that households that are not struggling to pay doctors' bills enjoy a stronger financial base overall, said lead researcher Robin Cohen, an NCHS health statistician.
"Other studies have shown that problems paying medical bills can have financial consequences, such as having problems paying for food, clothing and shelter, or filing bankruptcy," Cohen explained. "Significant expenses for a family member can negatively affect the whole family."
Health policy experts noted that people's ability to keep up with medical bills improved during the implementation of the Low Price Health Care Act (also known as ACA or Obamacare).
Cheryl Fish-Parcham, director of access initiatives for Families USA, a health care consumer advocacy group, said "rates of uninsured people declined and people received coverage that did not exclude their pre-existing conditions and that covered a set comprehensive services. it helps people pay their medical bills. "
It is possible that weakening the ACA could reverse this trend and cause more financial problems in the future, said Jack Hoadley, an analyst and political scientist at the Georgetown University Institute of Health Policy in Washington, D.C.
Medical debt has become a problem of the election year, with a county in rural Kansas that chooses to imprison people for their unpaid medical bills.
The Trump administration has supported lawsuits that attack the ACA, and continues to support a complete repeal of the health reform law.
"Certainly, if there were substantial cuts in the coverage provided under the Low Price Health Care Act or if the demand in Texas overturned all or part of the ACA, we could see a reversal in all these trends," said Hoadley.
Obamacare's requirement that insurers cover pre-existing conditions has placed many families with sick members in a more secure financial situation, for example, Hoadley added.
"The people who are most vulnerable due to medical payment problems are the ones with the most important bills because they are sick," he said. "A decade ago, when they could be excluded from insurance coverage or had to pay more for their insurance coverage, there was a greater likelihood that these families could not pay their bills."
The new study shows that there are still groups of people more likely to fight with their medical bills than others.
Women (15%), children (16%) and black Americans (21%) were more likely than other groups in 2018 to have a family that had trouble paying medical expenses, according to the study.
Among Americans under 65, about 28% of the uninsured belonged to families struggling to pay medical bills.
And for people 65 and older, the coverage provided by Medicare and Medicaid was lower than private insurance coverage and Medicare Advantage, the study showed.
The percentage of older people in families dealing with medical expenses was higher among people covered by Medicare and Medicaid combined (12%) and only Medicare (12%), compared to Medicare Advantage (8%) or private coverage (6% ).
"For older people, Medicare is an important source of help, but it still leaves gaps," said Fish-Parcham. "It doesn't cover dental care or long-term care, for example, so people still struggle with those expenses."
Hoadley added that these numbers show that, although the ACA has protected people against catastrophic medical bills, there are still ways that the law could be improved to help more people.
"The fact that 14% still have trouble paying their bills shows that we have not fixed everything that could be fixed in the health care system," he said.
The report was published on February 12 in the CDC NCHS data summary.