Study: Fewer U.S. Residents Report Difficulty Paying Medical Bills
The percentage of U.S. residents who have difficulty paying medical bills declined from about 22% in September 2013, before the Affordable Care Act fully took effect, to about 17% in March 2015, according to a new Urban Institute study, The Hill reports (Sullivan, The Hill, 5/22).
For the study, researchers used data from the Health Reform Monitoring survey from the first quarter of 2013 through the first quarter of 2015. The data include a nationally representative sample of nonelderly adults (Karpman/Long, Urban Institute study, 5/21).
In total, about 9.4 million fewer people had difficulty paying medical bills.
The researchers found that the percentage of residents who experience difficulty paying medical bills dropped from about 20% to 15% in states that have expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Meanwhile, in non-expansion states, the percentage declined from about 24% to 20% (The Hill, 5/22).
"Federal and nonfederal survey data show strong gains in health insurance coverage following implementation of key provisions of the [ACA] in 2014 and early 2015," the authors noted, citing other research.
Reason for Decline Uncertain
The researchers noted that although data show significant gains in coverage rates, they added that "identifying the extent to which the decline in medical bill problems was the result of coverage gains rather than other factors such as the improving economy is beyond the scope of this policy brief" (Urban Institute study, 5/21).
Meanwhile, a companion study found that about 70% of individuals with medical debt had insurance when they received the care that resulted in the balance, The Hill reports.
The finding comes after a recent Commonwealth Fund report noted that about one-quarter of residents who have health insurance are considered "underinsured" because their coverage led them to be responsible for out-of-pocket medical costs exceeding what they could afford (The Hill, 5/22).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.