A report published by Kaiser Health News finds that North Carolina has one of the nation’s highest shares of residents with medical debt.
In fact, according to credit bureau data, only five states have a higher share than North Carolina.
To make matters worse, the state ranks in the bottom half nationally in terms of policies that protect patients from hospitals and their loan shark debt collection practices.
The good news is that some lawmakers are taking real steps to address the medical debt crisis.
“Medicaid expansion would go beyond hospital costs,” National Consumer Law Center Jenifer Bosco to Kaiser. “It would touch all health care costs and pharmacy costs, which really does have the potential to reduce or eliminate a lot of medical debt for the lowest-income people.”
A bipartisan group of lawmakers have also introduced the “Medical Debt De-Weaponization Act.”
· Requires that hospital and healthcare facilities disclose charges for all services.
· Sets standards for the provision of charity and discounted care.
· Prohibits collecting on medical debt though arrest, home foreclosures and wage garnishment.
· Institutes financial assistance guidelines and parameters for patients who cannot pay medical bills.
· Places fair limits on interests for medical debt.
A study by the National Academy of State Health Policy and the North Carolina State HealthPlan found that hospitals are encouraging patients who can’t pay to open medical credit cards that charge interest rates as high as 18 percent.
When high-interest credit cards fail, hospital systems will attempt to collect on bills by damaging credit scores and suing patients, according to the study.
If North Carolina passed both these bills, the state would move from the bottom half to second in the country for patient debt protections.
For families like the Oliver’s – who were sued by multi-billion dollar Atrium Health because they can’t afford a $30,000 ER bill – lawmakers can’t act soon enough.