As hundreds of thousands of Californians lost jobs and medical insurance coverage during the Great Recession, a growing number of state residents took on medical debt, according to a new report from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
In 2009, 2.6 million Californians under age 65 had some kind of medical debt, up by 400,000 people from 2007, before the recession began.
The latest biennial "State of Health Insurance in California" report, funded by The California Endowment and The California Wellness Foundation, is based on data from survey data collected in 2009.
Medical debt was highest for those who lacked health insurance, according to the report. Among those who were uninsured the entire year, 18.4 percent had medical debt. Among those who were insured for part of the year, 23.2 percent had debt. But even 9 percent of those with employer-sponsored health insurance reported some kind of medical debt.
"No Californian should have to take on debt to pay medical bills or go without access to health care just because they lost their job," lead author Shana Alex Lavarreda, director of health insurance studies at the center, said in a press statement. "As this recession has so clearly shown us, linking health care to a volatile job market puts us all at risk."
The report also discusses the potential positive impacts of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed by Congress in 2010.
"The rate of uninsured Americans increases annually, and the burden that presents to our health care system is economically unsustainable," Robert K. Ross, president and CEO of The California Endowment, said in a press release. "Health care reform will ensure that many millions of Californians need not fear a potential health catastrophe just because of an economic downturn."