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For the first time in a decade, Americans say health care is getting more affordable

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Every two years, the Commonwealth Fund* surveys Americans on how difficult it is to afford medical care. The 2014 survey showed something new: for the first time in a decade, the number of Americans who say they can afford the health care they need went up.

The Commonwealth Fund fielded the survey during the second half of 2014, meaning they captured the people who signed up for Obamacare during the open enrollment period earlier in the year. And it showed, for the first time in the survey's 10-year history, a decline in the number of Americans who reported having difficulty paying medical bills or who carried medical debt.

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(Commonwealth Fund)

The Commonwealth Fund also looked at Americans who said they put off care because it was too expensive. And there, too, they saw a decline: 36 percent of Americans reported delaying care because of the price, an all-time low in the survey's history.

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(The Commonwealth Fund)

This also coincided with an increase in the number of Americans who reported having health insurance, a finding that lines up with other national surveys on coverage.

In a way, it seems obvious that more people with health insurance would mean more Americans able to afford care. But that notion hasn't always been taken for granted with Obamacare. Some of the plans sold on the new marketplaces have had especially narrow networks that limit coverage to a smaller set of doctors. These plans have also had particularly high deductibles, often over $2,000.

So it hasn't been totally clear whether these plans would make it easier for Americans to afford coverage: would enrollees with a $2,000 deductible, for example, still find it too expensive to go to the doctor?

The Commonwealth Fund survey suggests that the answer is no: that the plans sold on the marketplace are making it easier for the people who buy them to see the doctor — which is one of the main points of having health insurance to begin with.

*Disclosure: I currently have a grant through the Association of Health Care Journalists, paid for by the Commonwealth Fund, to report on fatal medical errors.

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