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During the first three months of the year, just 1 in 20 Americans said they did not get medical care they needed because they could not afford it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The findings, from the federal National Health Interview Survey, show that 4.4 percent of people interviewed from January through March said they had skipped medical care in the previous year because of its cost -- the lowest percentage in 16 years. The percent skipping care for cost reasons had reached nearly 7 percent in 2009 and 2010 and has been shrinking since then.


Data based on household interviews of a sample of the population. (CDC/NCHS)

The survey, conducted with people of all ages, does not explain the reason why fewer people are avoiding treatment because of its cost, but the improvement coincides with two big changes: Health insurance has become more common under the Affordable Care Act as government exchanges began nearly two years ago to sell private insurance policies for people who cannot get coverage through a job and as Medicaid for low-income people expanded in some states. At the same time, the economy has been recovering from the Great Recession of 2008-09, so more people are working.

The new CDC estimates provide the latest evidence of a significant lessening of  the ranks of Americans who are uninsured: 29 million Americans said they lacked health insurance coverage, 7 million fewer than in 2014. The new findings comes a few weeks after a separate CDC report  and Gallup survey data detailed ways that health insurance has become more common in the United States.

[16.4 million gain health insurance]

The CDC's new estimates on skipped medical care and health insurance come from a three-month window of surveying, while the earlier data cover entire years. But an author of the report, Jeannine  Schiller, a statistician at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, said the survey's results for how well people can afford care and how many have health coverage do not tend to fluctuate much during a year, so the comparisons are meaningful.