Over two million Californians have medical debt. These residents find it difficult to access needed health care or affordable credit. Even with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, many East Bay residents will continue to struggle with medical debt that makes it harder for them to pay other bills and leads to financial and mental stress. A recent report from the Pew Research Center, found that the median wealth of white households is 20 times that of African American households and 18 times that of Hispanic households. African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be in debt and to suffer the worst impact on their credit rating. For Californians with medical debt, both their physical and financial health are at risk.
In order for California communities to be healthy, we must address both health and wealth issues. There are clear connections between poverty, lack of health insurance, and poor health. In regions of California with a poverty rate greater than twenty percent, almost all had life expectancies more than two years lower than the state average. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, now is the time to come together to discuss new opportunities to expand access not only for health but also for savings.
At this September 2011 event, the New America Foundation, in partnership with the Alameda County Department of Public Health, the Select Committee on Financial Empowerment, and the Alameda County Community Asset Network -- a coalition convened by Urban Strategies Council -- unveiled a new report that outlines the consequences of medical debt in the United States and proposes policy solutions to address this problem in California, including strategies that draw upon federal health reform. Panelists discussed the latest research, current legislation and concrete strategies that policymakers, healthcare professionals, financial service providers, and advocates can support to reduce the burden of medical debt, create savings opportunities, and improve health outcomes in the East Bay.