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Obamacare, economy to thank as 13 million have easier time paying medical bills

Obama defends Affordable Care Act, describes needed improvements like smartphone upgrades

President Barack Obama defended his healthcare program at at Miami Dade College's Wolfson Campus on Thursday. "It's worked," he said, pointing out it still has room to improve each year, much like when companies work bugs out of new smartphone des
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President Barack Obama defended his healthcare program at at Miami Dade College's Wolfson Campus on Thursday. "It's worked," he said, pointing out it still has room to improve each year, much like when companies work bugs out of new smartphone des

Almost 13 million people no longer struggle to pay their medical bills than did five years ago, a new government survey shows.

A survey from the National Center for Health Statistics found that in 2011, 56.5 million people under age 65 reported having a difficult time paying medical bills. By the first half of 2016, that number dipped to 43.8 million, a decrease of 22 percent.

One reason so many more people can pay when they need to go to the doctor is because they have insurance coverage. Much of the increase of coverage is because of the Affordable Care Act, which began in 2014 providing plans to people who weren’t previously covered.

“The fact that this report shows it's getting easier, it seems like we should lay a good part of this at the door of the ACA,” Lynn Quincy, director of the Healthcare Value Hub at the Consumers Union, told NPR.

Under Obamacare, 20 million more people have insurance now than they did in 2010. This includes people who gained coverage by buying it on the insurance exchanges, Medicaid expansion and changes to laws allowing young adults to remain covered under their parents’ plans.

But with news in October that 2017 premiums for the health plans sold on the exchanges will go up by an average of 25 percent, Republicans remain intent on repealing President Barack Obama’s signature policy achievement. President-elect Donald Trump has said he would retain certain portions of the ACA, and Republican control of both chambers of Congress gives the party an opportunity to do away with the law they opposed throughout Obama’s tenure. Trump’s pick for secretary of health and human services, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., has introduced multiple bills to repeal and replace Obamacare. He will continue that quest as a member of Trump’s Cabinet.

Another reason fewer people are now getting bogged down by medical expenses is an improving economy. In January 2011, the unemployment rate was 9.1 percent. By June 2016, it dropped to 4.9 percent. The uptick in employment means many more people have insurance coverage through their employer.

The National Center for Health Statistics data was drawn from a national survey of almost 580,000 people. They were asked if they or anyone in their family had a hard time paying medical bills in the last 12 months. “Medical bills” was defined as costs to go to the doctor, dentist and hospital, but did not include paying health insurance premiums or non-prescription medication.

In the first six months of this year, 28.5 percent of people under age 65 who were having trouble paying medical bills were uninsured. Twenty-three percent of those having trouble paying were poor and 24.9 percent were near-poor.

“If the ACA gets repealed and they don’t substitute that with something that’s equal to Obamacare or better, we can expect to see these numbers spike back up,’ Jacqueline Wiltshire, assistant professor of health policy and management at the University of South Florida told HealthDay.

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