Surprise: Americans are having less trouble paying medical bills.

Here's a rare bit of good news on health care costs: Americans are having an easier time paying their medical bills than they did just a year ago.

New data from the Center for Disease Control show there were 57.8 million Americans who had trouble paying their health care bills in the first six months of 2011. That number fell by 3.6 million, hitting 54.2 million in the same span of 2012.

Many of those gains accrued, perhaps surprisingly, to public health program enrollees, people signed up for programs like Medicaid.

Splice the data slightly differently, and you can see that families with children under 17 saw a statistically significant change in their ability to pay medical bills that did not occur among families with members between 18 and 64.

Due to some lags in data collection, we don't know a ton about what changed between 2011 and 2012. We do know that, at least through 2011, health care cost growth has been  slowing, which could alleviate some burdens. We also know that rates of health insurance rose between 2010 and 2011, many of those gains seen among the young adults enrolling on their parents' health insurance. We don't yet have data on gains in 2012, although it appears there was largely a plateau in mid-2011.

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Evan Soltas · June 4, 2013

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