medical billsAccording to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), fewer Americans have been having a hard time trying to pay medical bills for the fourth year in a row.

The study, conducted by NCHS researchers Jeannine Schiller, M.P.H. and Robin Cohen, PhD., specifically shows that the number of folks per household who faced challenges dealing with medical debts dropped by about 12 million during the span of time running from the first half of 2011 through the first half of 2015. The data show that low-income families and those receiving government coverage particularly benefited. Because seniors on the whole are covered by Medicare, the questions asked via the National Health Interview Survey targeted people under the age of 65.

The difficulties lessened mostly in the last two years, which coincides with extensive insurance coverage expansion through the Affordable Care Act, popularly referred to as Obamacare. The health care law makes subsidized private insurance available to those who can’t get job-based coverage. It also expanded Medicaid intended for adults in low-income brackets without kids residing at home.

The change measured by the research is quite significant. In 2011, more than 20 percent of U.S. residents who were too young for Medicare eligibility – that’s about 56.5 million people – lived in homes that struggled with problems paying medical bills. But by the first half of 2015, the number of people having a hard time dropped to 16.5 percent, or about 44.5 million.

Even though Obamacare has expanded medical insurance coverage to an unprecedented number of Americans, its clout has mostly benefited people at the low-income end of the spectrum. The majority, those who have private insurance, received much less relief than people covered by the government. This seems to hold true for middle-class households in general.

The study also revealed that fewer children were living in families facing these difficulties. In 2011, 23.2 percent of kids under 17 lived in households that had problems paying health expenses, but by the first half of 2015, the percentage had dipped to 18.1 percent.

Still, the bottom line is that those most in need of help – the impoverished – are getting it. People living well above the poverty line were having less difficulty meeting medical expenses in the first place. Data show that in 2011, only about 15 percent of those ranked as middle-class and under the age of 65 lived in homes facing problems meeting health care costs, whereas twice that rate was struggling among poor and lower middle class Americans.