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Medical debt could be banned from credit reports

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Monday, October 2, 2023   

In response to a growing medical debt crisis in Wyoming and across the nation, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has proposed banning medical debt from credit reports.

Mona Shah, senior director of policy and strategy for the advocacy organization Community Catalyst, said they have heard from countless individuals who were not able to qualify for an apartment, or a car loan, or a job, just because of a bad credit score linked to an unplanned medical event.

"No one plans on taking on medical debt," Shah noted. "A lot of people with medical debt actually are insured, but a lot of the services they need may not be fully covered. And that's how people end up with medical debt."

The United States has the most expensive health care in the world, and currently 41% of adults, about 100 million Americans, carry medical or dental debt. Some hospitals and the debt-collection industry have warned the bureau's move could force providers to require payment up front, and could allow consumers to take on loans they cannot afford or pay back.

Others argued employers, landlords and banks need to know about medical debt as they calculate their risks. But Shah pointed to a recent report from the bureau, which showed medical debt is significantly less predictive of a patient's likelihood of making rent and paying back loans than other forms of debt.

"The other important thing to mention when talking about medical debt is that there is a significant amount of hospital billing errors," Shah emphasized. "In one study, 80% of hospital bills had some sort of error to them."

Shah's group is also pushing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to prohibit the use of deferred-interest credit cards -- which medical providers offer to patients as a way to ensure they get paid -- and do not currently count as medical debt.

"They are very misleading, because they tell individuals that it's 0%, but that interest rate is only for a certain promotional period," Shah stressed. "After that promotional period ends, it's as high as 27%. And that interest will apply retroactively."


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