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- In 2019, 45.5 million American households struggled to pay their medical bills.
- New figures show that number will drop to 35 million by 2021.
- Policies enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic may have contributed to the decline.
According to the CDC, the number of U.S. households struggling to pay medical bills will drop from 14% in 2019 to 10.8% in 2021. That equates to 10.5 million fewer people struggling to pay their bills in 2021.
The findings are based on the National Health Interview Survey conducted in 2019, 2020 and 2021, which measures an individual’s ability to pay for medical care over the past 12 months.
Part of the decrease may be due to policies implemented throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the 2021 American Rescue Package Act. Legal provisions allow Americans more flexibility in payments to creditors, unemployment assistance and paid sick leave improvements.
COBRA premium subsidies and changes to the Medicaid program under the act may also have boosted the percentage of Americans covered by insurance, another factor that could help Americans pay for their health care.
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Many Americans also skipped preventive and elective health care appointments and hospital emergency room visits during the early stages of the pandemic out of fear of contracting COVID-19. Declines in healthcare utilization may lead to fewer reported struggles.
Medical debt is the leading form of debt in the United States, with higher interest rates in the South and lower-income communities.
Low household income, being uninsured or living in a state that didn’t expand Medicaid were all linked to difficulty paying for care, according to the latest CDC data.
Those who struggle to pay their medical bills may face additional financial difficulties paying for food, clothing or housing, while adults with medical debt are more likely to forego treatment because of the cost, the report authors explained.
The National Health Interview Survey showed that children and adults ages 18 to 64 had a higher percentage of households experiencing difficulty paying for medical care than adults ages 65 and older.
Among older adults, those with private insurance were less likely to report problems than those with Medicare and Medicaid, Medicare Advantage and traditional Medicare.
Men are also less likely than women to pay for medical care in 2021, and black Americans are more likely than Hispanics, whites and Asians to report difficulty.
“Despite a downward trend in the proportion of people who have problems paying their medical bills, the burden associated with unpaid medical bills remains a public health problem,” the report authors concluded.