One of the goals of Massachusetts’ landmark 2006 health care law was to reduce personal medical debt, but recent data suggests that the rate of medical debt remains largely unchanged.

Massachusetts residents are still having a hard time coping with the high cost of medical care. That's according to a survey of 3,000 residents by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. According to the study, one in five people had trouble paying their medical bills or were paying a medical bill over time. That's more or less the same number as before state health care reform was enacted.

Researchers say in the early 2000s, health care costs were rising faster than incomes. Also, businesses are offering pared-down health care plans requiring workers to pay more for tests, treatment and doctors.

Gov. Deval Patrick says even though debt hasn't gone down, the law is still working: “Health care reform has been a resounding success on every level. And there are going to be issues where hospital bills squeeze individual and household budgets. That’s something we’re continuing to work on.”

Jonathan Gruber, a health care economist at MIT, says while the law has failed to cut medical debt, it may have prevented an increase. "Let's say I said to you, 'Hey, we're going to have a recession, the biggest national recession since the Great Depression, and yet medical debt will not go up in Massachusetts. You would have said, 'That's pretty impressive,' right?"

Gruber says, to be fair, the health care law by design, did not affect the vast majority of Massachusetts residents. It wasn't supposed to do anything to make government- and employer-sponsored health care plans more affordable. But he says the law did make things better for low-income people, who are now receiving coverage through state-subsidized plans.