Medical Bill Problems Steady for U.S. Families, 2007-2010

Some surprising data has emerged from a December 2011 Health Tracking Household Survey, conducted by the Center for Studying Health System Change.

Despite a sluggish economic recovery and increasing health care costs, families did not report more problems paying medical bills in 2010 than in 2007. Compared to 2003, however, when 15.1 percent of families had problems paying medical bills, the 2010 rate was 20.9 percent. One underlying reason may be that given the uncertain economic times, Americans cut back on medical care.

Medical bill problems also hit seniors, especially those with just Medicare coverage, increasing from 2003 to 2010 (11.7% to 20.7%).

With medical bill problems come barriers to needed medical care. For the insured with bill problems, 9.2 percent reported unmet medical needs, compared to 1.4 percent of those with no bill problems. For the uninsured the unmet medical needs rates were 27.9 percent with bill problems, 8.6 percent with no bill problems.

Provisions in the Affordable Care Act will reduce medical bill problems for some families. However, the authors caution: “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.”