20 Percent of Americans in Families With Trouble Paying Medical Bills in 2010

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More than 20 percent of Americans were in families that had problems paying medical bills in 2010, according to a study released Dec. 23 by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC).

While about the same proportion of people had problems paying medical bills in 2010 as in 2007, it was significantly higher in 2010 than in 2003—20.9 percent versus 15.1 percent, according to HSC's 2010 Health Tracking Household Survey, a nationally representative survey with information on 17,000 people. The survey's findings, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, were detailed in a report titled, Medical Bill Problems Steady for U.S. Families, 2007-2010.

Two-thirds of people with medical bill problems in 2010 reported difficulties paying for other necessities, while a quarter considered filing for bankruptcy, the report said.

The proportion of people 65 and older with problems paying medical bills rose significantly, to 10.3 percent in 2010 from 6.9 percent in 2003, the study said. Uninsured children and working-age adults in 2010 were more likely to have problems paying medical bills (31.5 percent) than insured people (20.2 percent), it said.

The proportion of children and working-age adults in low-income families with problems paying medical bills grew significantly to 29.2 percent in 2010 from 23.7 percent in 2003, the report said. Low-income families were defined as those below 138 percent of poverty—$30,429 for a family of four in 2010.

In 2014 almost all people with incomes less than 138 percent of poverty will be eligible for Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and federal subsidies to buy coverage through state health insurance exchanges will be available for people between 138 percent and 399 percent of poverty without employer coverage.

Provisions in the law “are likely to reduce—but not eliminate, financial pressures” for paying medical bills for people in that income group, HSC said in a release. “If wages continue to stagnate and health care costs continue to grow faster than real income, the financial burden of health care likely will grow more acute,” the study said.

Medical Bill Problems Steady for U.S. Families, 2007-2010 is available at http://www.hschange.org/CONTENT/1268/.