New Legislation Would Cancel Americans' Medical Debt

Consumers owe billions, with many of them expressing no hope of every paying it off
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted May 9, 2024 7:00 PM CDT
Lawmakers Suggest Canceling Americans' Health Care Debt

Studies have shown that millions of Americans owe a combined $220 billion in medical debt, with 1 in 5 adults saying they don't expect to ever be able to pay off the bills. A group of congressional Democrats on Wednesday proposed knocking the amount down to zero. "People in our country should not be going bankrupt because they got cancer and could not afford to pay their medical bills," Sen. Bernie Sanders said Wednesday in a statement. The legislation would remove the debt from credit reports and severely limit future debt from accruing, the Hill reports.

The legislation would cancel existing debt through a new federal grant program, per the Guardian. It would alter the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to keep creditors from collecting old medical bills and change the Consumer Credit Reporting Act to prohibit credit agencies from reporting information about unpaid health care bills. Rep. Ro Khanna, one of the co-sponsors, talked about the stress the debt causes. "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," he said.

The burden of medical debt is not evenly distributed. An analysis by KFF Health News found that people with disabilities were more than twice as likely to be in medical debt than those without a disability. In addition, 13% of Black Americans have the debt, compared to 7% of white adults and 8% of Hispanic adults. Ensuring that people are not plunged into debt because they saw a doctor or went to an emergency room is "kind of human decency," Khanna said. (More medical debt stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.