Sur­vey: De­cline in med­i­cal bill wor­ries slows

Antelope Valley Press - - VALLEY LIFE - By TOM MUR­PHY

The pro­por­tion of peo­ple in fam­i­lies strug­gling to pay med­i­cal bills is down, but the num­ber isn’t drop­ping like it used to, ac­cord­ing to a big govern­ment study.

In a 2018 na­tional sur­vey, just over 14% of peo­ple said they be­longed to a fam­ily strug­gling with those bills, the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion re­ported Wed­nes­day. That’s a big drop from nearly 20% in 2011 but only slightly less than the pro­por­tion who re­ported the prob­lem in 2016 and 2017.

Re­searchers cau­tioned against read­ing too much into the re­sults, in part be­cause the sur­vey doesn’t show im­por­tant de­tails like in­come lev­els or the size of the bills that worry peo­ple.

But they said the smaller de­cline re­flects broader health care trends. A big one is a slow­down in growth for the Af­ford­able Care Act’s cov­er­age ex­pan­sions.

The ACA of­fers sub­si­dized pri­vate in­sur­ance for peo­ple who don’t have ac­cess to a job-based plan. It also ex­panded Med­i­caid cov­er­age in many states. Those ex­pan­sions started in 2014.

“The gains of the Af­ford­able Care Act kind of plateaued over the past few years and ac­tu­ally, de­pend­ing on the data source, look like they’re erod­ing a lit­tle bit,” said Dr. Ben­jamin Som­mers, a Har­vard pro­fes­sor of health pol­icy and eco­nom­ics.

He noted that the two big­gest fac­tors that de­ter­mine whether a fam­ily strug­gles with med­i­cal bills are in­sur­ance cov­er­age and in­come lev­els.

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