Feb. 11 (UPI) -- One in seven Americans are members of families struggling to pay medical bills, an analysis released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics reveals.
While the statistic appears troubling, researchers say it's actually an improvement -- in 2011, nearly 20 percent, or one in five, U.S. adults reported having difficulty paying for care.
"Among persons under age 65, the percentage having problems paying medical bills was highest among those who were uninsured, followed by those who were covered with Medicaid and private health insurance," researchers wrote in the study. "Among adults aged 65 and over, those with Medicare and Medicaid, and Medicare only had similar percentages of having problems paying medical bills; both were higher than those with Medicare Advantage and private coverage."
"This report does not examine specific reasons that may be driving this decrease," the authors, Amy E. Cha and Robin A. Cohen, of NCHS, told UPI via email.
The estimates were derived from responses to the National Health Interview Survey, a CDC initiative used to track population health status, healthcare access and progress toward achieving national health goals. The data was collected for an eight-year period, from 2011 through 2018.
While just over 14 percent of the population overall reported their family having difficulty paying bills, the percentage was slightly higher -- nearly 15 percent -- among women. In addition, just over 16 percent of children 17 years of age and younger were members of families facing these challenges, and the percentage decreased as the survey participants' age increased.
The percentage of non-Hispanic black people who reported being part of households having problems paying medical bills was nearly 21 percent, while it was just under 16 percent for Hispanic people and 13 percent for non-Hispanic white people, researchers report.
Meanwhile, nearly 28 percent of uninsured adults and children 65 years of age and younger and 20 percent of adults on Medicaid said their families had problems paying medical bills in the past 12 months, compared to less than 12 percent of those on private insurance.
Finally, among adults 65 years of age and older, the percentages of those who were in families having problems paying medical bills in the past 12 months were higher among those with Medicare and Medicaid or Medicaid only, at just over 12 percent, than among those with Medicare Advantage, at 8.3 percent, or private coverage, at 5.6 percent.
"Significant expenses for one family member may adversely affect the whole family," researchers wrote, adding that "people who are in families with problems paying medical bills may experience serious financial consequences, such as having problems with paying for food, clothing or housing, and filing for bankruptcy."