State Lawmakers Weigh in on US Medical Debt Burden

( – US presidents and Washington lawmakers have been struggling with passing a functional form of national healthcare for generations. Congress passed the Affordable Care Act of 2010, but to say that bill has turned out to be a disappointment would be a grave understatement. Many working-class American families find themselves one serious illness away from financial ruin. Without meaningful legislative efforts to resolve the US medical debt burden issue at the federal level, state lawmakers are now weighing in on it.

California-based KFF, formerly the Kaiser Family Foundation, recently published a report revealing that more than 100 million Americans, including about 41% of adults, are saddled with medical care debt. The non-profit group conducted a nationwide poll that shed light on the bleak situation facing many families. Over the past five years, more than 50% of the nation’s adults reported that they went into debt because of dental and medical bills.

Facing this growing problem, more than a dozen states have started enacting various consumer protection laws to prevent or mitigate medical debt. POLITICO reported state lawmakers are debating several additional bills during the remainder of their legislative sessions. Many are expected to be signed into law by their respective governors later this year or shortly after lawmakers reconvene in January.

For instance, Oregon lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year that limits the amount of interest healthcare providers can charge patients and clients. Likewise, the law requires non-profit healthcare facilities to screen patients for financial assistance eligibility once their debt reaches the $500 mark.

Similarly, North Carolina’s Republican Treasurer Dale Folwell is pushing a comprehensive bill addressing problems suffered by the state residents burdened by medical debt. If lawmakers pass that measure, it would:

  • Regulate how medical debt is reported to credit agencies
  • Prohibit bill collectors from foreclosing on property due to outstanding healthcare debt
  • Block collectors’ ability to garnish wages over medical debt
  • Cap the interest rates on medical debt collection

Lawmakers in Illinois, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Louisiana, New Jersey, Connecticut, Minnesota, and North Carolina have passed —- or are expected to advance — similar measures. North Carolina Treasurer Dale Folwell, a Republican, likened the medical debt collection system to a cartel. He told POLITICO that collectors “will break your kneecaps.” Perhaps federal lawmakers can set aside their differences and address the rising medical debt that threatens to ruin the lives of working-class Americans.

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