More private plan users report medical bill problems

People with higher incomes are having trouble paying their health care costs

It is getting harder for more people to pay their medical bills, according to data from the federal government. (Image: Thinkstock) It is getting harder for more people to pay their medical bills, according to data from the federal government. (Image: Thinkstock)

Recent health care access gains may have started to level off, or even reverse, sometime this year, according to new National Health Interview Survey data.

People who have private health coverage, and people in higher income families, told survey workers in the first half of this year that they were having more problems with paying bills for medical services and products.

The percentage of U.S. residents under age 65 in families reporting medical bill problems increased to 12.7 percent in the first half of this year, up from 12.1 percent in 2015.

For people under age 65 in families classified as "not poor," the percentage with medical bill problems jumped to 12.6 percent from 12 percent.

Related: CDC: Medical bills still haunt near-poor consumers

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency that runs the National Health Interview Survey program, has been reporting data on medical bill problems in the current format since 2011.

This year, the medical bill problem rates for privately insured people and non-poor people increased for the first time since the start of the current data series. The rates are now close to what they were in 2014, according to the new report.

For privately insured people under age 65, the medical bill problem rate fell to 12.8 percent in 2014, after many Affordable Care Act coverage expansion programs and coverage requirements kicked in. That was down from a problem rate of 14.9 percent in 2011.

For non-poor people under 65, the medical bill problem rate fell to 12.8 percent in 2014, from 15.2 percent in 2011.

The overall medical rate problem for all U.S. residents under age 65 stood at 16.2 percent earlier this year. That was down from 16.4 percent in 2015, down from 17.9 percent in 2014, and down from 21.3 percent in 2011.

The CDC includes bills for physician services, hospital services, medications, therapist services, nursing home services and home health care services in the definition of "medical bills." The agency does not include insurance premiums in the total.

The agency classifies people as privately insured if they have employer-sponsored health coverage, ordinary individual health coverage or individual coverage purchased through an Affordable Care Act exchange. In the new report, the agency does not distinguish between people with different types of private health coverage.

The agency classifies people as non-poor if they are in families with income over 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For 2016, in most of the United States, an individual who earns more than $23,540 per year is non-poor. For a family of four, the usual cut-off is $48,500.

Related:

How the ACA squeezes moderately high income 60-year-olds

Health costs slam middle-income Americans

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