A new government report finds that fewer Americans are having problems paying their medical bills.

The report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics found that the percentage of families having trouble paying their medical bills decreased to 20.3 percent in the first six months of 2012 from 21.7 percent in the first six months of 2011.

The report also found that families with children through age 17 were more likely than adults ages 18 to 65 to have trouble paying their medical bills.

Still, the report found that the percentage of families having problems paying their medical bills dropped for both age groups.

Comparing the first six months of 2011 to the first six months of 2012:

  • The percentage of families with children through age 17 having trouble paying their bills decreased to 21.8 percent from 23.7 percent.
  • The percentage of families with adults ages 18 to 64 having problems paying their medical bills decreased to 19.7 percent from 20.9 percent.

Having health insurance helps

The report, "Problems Paying Medical Bills: Early Release of Estimates from the National Health Interview Survey," found having health insurance makes a difference.

Of those under age 65 and who had trouble paying their medical bills in the first six months of 2012:

  • 36.3 percent did not have health insurance
  • 14 percent had private health insurance coverage
  • And 25.6 percent had government-funded health insurance, such as Medicaid.
The report also found that in the first six months of 2011, 15.7 percent of those under age 65 who had private medical insurance were struggling to pay medical bills. In the first six months of 2012, that percentage fell to 14 percent.

The percentage of people with public coverage who were having problems paying medical bills decreased to 25.6 percent in the first six months of 2012 from 28 percent in the first six months of 2011.

From January 2011 to June 2012, people under age 65 who were uninsured and those who had public coverage were about twice as likely as those who had private coverage to be in families having problems paying medical bills.

To conduct the survey, researchers asked a representative of each family: "In the past 12 months did you or anyone in the family have problems paying or were unable to pay any medical bills? Include bills for doctors, dentists, hospitals, therapists, medication, equipment, nursing home or home care."

The survey defined "family" as an individual or a group of two or more related persons living together in the same home.