HealthDay News — One in three families experienced the financial burden of U.S. medical care in the first half of 2011, early release data from the 2011 National Health Interview Survey suggest.

Robin A. Cohen, PhD, from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) in Hyattsville, Md., and colleagues analyzed the study data collected between January and June 2011 from 52,043 people who participated in the Family Core and Supplemental components of the survey to investigate the financial burden of medical care among the U.S. population.

One in 10 survey respondents reported that their families were unable to pay medical bills; one in five said their family experienced difficulty paying medical bills; and one in four said their family paid medical bills over time, the researchers found.

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The likelihood of belonging to a family burdened by medical expenses decreased with age – with the highest proportion, 24%, in the 0 to 17 year age group, followed by 10% of adults aged 65 to 74 years and 7% of adults aged 75 years and older.

Poor or near-poor (defined as income 100% or less than 200% of the poverty threshold) adults younger than 65 years were more likely to have difficulty paying bills. These individuals  were more than three times as likely as those who were not poor to be in a family that experienced difficulty paying medical bills. More than one in five of poor or near-poor adults reported they had bills they were unable to pay. 

Estimates based on preliminary editing procedures may differ by more than 0.3 percentage points from estimates based on final files, the researchers warned.

Cohen RA et al. “Burden of medical care cost: Early release of estimates from the National Health Interview Survey, January–June 2011.” National Center for Health Statistics. March 2012.