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Fewer Families Struggling to Pay Medical Bills: CDC
Date:6/4/2013

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, June 4 (HealthDay News) -- The proportion of families in the United States that can't keep up with their medical bills declined between 2011 and 2012, according to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the news might not necessarily be cause for celebration.

According to the report released Tuesday by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, the share of people under age 65 in families struggling to pay their health care bills decreased from 21.7 percent in the first six months of 2011 to 20.3 percent in the first six months of 2012.

Despite this improvement, the families of more than 54 million Americans continue to carry health care debt they cannot manage. This particularly holds true for families who are poor or have restricted access to health coverage, said study author Robin Cohen, a CDC health statistician.

"During this time period, those who were uninsured or who had public coverage were about twice as likely as those with private coverage to have problems paying medical bills," Cohen said.

Fewer families may face overwhelming medical bills because some are foregoing health care coverage due to joblessness and other economic factors, an expert said.

The report draws its conclusions from data gathered during the CDC's annual National Health Interview Survey. It defines medical bills as bills for doctors, dentists, hospitals, therapists, medication, equipment, nursing homes or home care.

A drop in the number of families struggling with medical bills may seem like a positive development, but it likely results from darker economic trends, said Kathleen Stoll, director of health policy for Families USA, a nonprofit and nonpartisan health care advocacy group.

Stoll believes that fewer families are struggling with medical bills because chronic unemployment is causing many to skip needed health care.<
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