Mandating health insurance does not reduce the number of individuals who have problems paying medical bills, the Boston Globe reports, citing studies by the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts and others.

Under the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ healthcare reform legislation, which was established in 2006, residents are required to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty, a provision similar to what will take place nationwide in 2014 under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

While there appears to be some indications of an overall reduction in medical debt among consumers in Massachusetts, the number of individuals reporting problems paying medical bills has not changed significantly between 2006 and 2010, when the most recent studies were conducted.

What the Globe article does not mention is that in 2006 the U.S. economy was strong, while in 2010 it was beginning recovery from one of the worst recessions in history.

Much of the Boston newspaper’s data came from a study released in January by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation. With regard to medical debt by consumers, the study found:

  • About half (49.4 percent) of nonelderly adults in Massachusetts reported their family was spending more on health care in 2010 than in the prior year and a quarter were not confident in their ability to afford care in the coming year.
  • More than a quarter of the adults (28.3 percent) reported that their health care spending in 2010 had caused financial problems for their families, often leading them to cut back on health care services and other spending or to reduce savings. Such financial problems were more common for lower-income adults than higher-income adults (37.1 versus 21.5 percent).
  • Nearly one in five nonelderly adults (17.5 percent) reported problems paying their medical bills in fall 2010. Most often those bills were for doctor or hospital care. Lower-income adults were more likely than higher-income adults to report problems paying medical bills (26.1 versus 10.9 percent).
  • In fall 2010 one in five nonelderly adults had medical bills that they were paying off over time. Almost half of those adults reported that their problems paying medical bills began more than a year earlier. Lower-income adults were more likely than higher-income adults to have medical debt (23.2 versus 17.9 percent) and to report that their problems paying medical bills had begun more than a year ago (53.8 versus 38.1 percent).

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