WEDNESDAY, March 7 (HealthDay News) -- One-third of Americans are in families that are having trouble paying for health care, a government report released Wednesday shows.
Data for the first six months of 2011 found that one in five families has difficulty paying medical bills, one in four pays bills over time and one in 10 can't pay medical bills at all, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"There are families in this country that are experiencing a financial burden of medical care, and the chance of being in a family experiencing a financial burden of medical care decreases with age," said lead report author Robin Cohen, a statistician in CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.
Insurance, public or private, frequently determines whether families can pay their health care expenses, Cohen noted.
"But even among people with private insurance, about 16 percent had trouble paying medical bills and 6 percent couldn't pay at all," Cohen said.
People over 65 with private health insurance are least likely to be financially burdened by medical care, while people without insurance have the highest burden, she said.
Race was another factor linked to financial burden. About 10 percent of blacks and 7 percent of Hispanics had bills they couldn't pay compared with less than 3 percent of whites.
Other highlights of the report, released March 7, include:
Sara Collins, vice president for affordable health insurance at the Commonwealth Fund in New York City, said that "this is consistent with the trends we are seeing."
The number of people without health insurance, now some 50 million, has increased along with rapidly rising health care costs, she said.
In addition, many people have high deductibles and co-pays and skimpy coverage, Collins said.
"This underscores the reason we need health care reform," she said. "The coverage expansions will be critical in terms of insuring people who don't have health insurance, and helping to make health care affordable."
People without health insurance are likely to put off care until they are very ill, Collins said.
"We know that people who don't have health insurance get care at about 50 percent of the rate as people with health insurance," she said. "So, if you don't have health insurance you are going to delay care."
Sixty percent of people without insurance delay or avoid going to the doctor when they are sick because of costs, she added.
For more about health insurance, visit the Commonwealth Fund.
SOURCES: Robin A. Cohen, Ph.D., statistician, National Center for Health Statistics, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Sara Collins, vice president for Affordable Health Insurance, Commonwealth Fund, New York City; March 7, 2012, CDC report, Financial Burden of Medical Care: Early Release of Estimates From the National Health Interview Survey, January to June 2011
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