Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) have introduced legislation that aims to eliminate medical debt for Americans.

The bill aims to “eliminate all $220 billion in medical debt held by millions of Americans, wipe it from credit reports, and drastically limit the accrual of future medical debt.”

“The medical debt crisis has exploded in recent years, decimating Americans’ bank accounts and deterring them from seeking health care. Among all working-age adults in the United States, an estimated 27 percent are currently carrying medical debt of more than $500, and 15 percent have medical debt loads of $2,000 or more,” Sanders’ office stated in a press release.

“This is the United States of America, the richest country in the history of the world. People in our country should not be going bankrupt because they got cancer and could not afford to pay their medical bills,” Sanders said.

“No one in America should face financial ruin because of the outrageous cost of an unexpected medical emergency or a hospital stay. The time has come to cancel all medical debt and guarantee health care to all as a human right, not a privilege,” he added.

Per The Guardian:

In an interview with the Guardian, Khanna said he had spoken to many Americans bearing the financial brunt of this problem. One woman who met with Khanna showed him several hundred pages of medical bills that she received, while another person shared a story about their mother incurring hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt after suffering a stroke.

The burden of medical debt appears to disproportionately fall on certain marginalized communities in the US. The KFF analysis found that those with a disability were more than twice as likely to have medical debt compared with those without a disability. While 7% of white adults and 8% of Hispanic adults said they carry medical debt, 13% of Black Americans reported having unpaid medical bills. According to a separate study published in the journal Health Affairs in 2016, approximately one-third of cancer survivors had gone into debt as a result of their diagnoses, and 3% had filed for bankruptcy.

“I’ve met people who say they’re just resigned to having this debt ruin their credit, and they don’t pay it, but they have this kind of harassment and anxiety while they’re dealing with a chronic condition like cancer or diabetes,” Khanna said. “The amount of stories that people share about this have really startled me.”

Sanders and Khanna’s bill may face a difficult journey to passage in the Republican-controlled House, but polls suggest that cancelation of medical debt attracts widespread support from members of both parties. According to a YouGov survey conducted in 2022, 66% of Americans – including 56% of Republicans and 85% of Democrats – support some relief to those with medical debt.

“People in America don’t think you should go into debt because you go to see a doctor or go to the emergency room,” Khanna said. “It’s kind of human decency.”

Cont. from the press release:

If enacted, the Medical Debt Cancellation Act would:

  • Amend the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, making it illegal to collect medical debt incurred prior to the bill’s enactment and creating a private right of action for patients.
  • Amend the Fair Consumer Credit Reporting Act, effectively wiping medical debt from credit reports by preventing credit reporting agencies from reporting information related to debt that arose from medical expenses.
  • Create a grant program within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to cancel medical debt, prioritizing low-resource providers and vulnerable populations.
  • Amend the Public Health Service Act, updating billing and debt collection requirements to limit the potential for future debt to be incurred.

Canceling medical debt is a common sense position overwhelmingly supported by the American public. That support is nonpartisan with 84 percent of Republicans in favor of canceling it. In fact, when polled on which types of debt Americans would like to see forgiven, two-thirds of Americans pointed to medical debt.

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