WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) reintroduced the COVID-19 Medical Debt Collection Relief Act, legislation to prevent healthcare providers from taking drastic steps to collect medical debts from patients – including seizing bank accounts and garnishing wages – during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Ohioans are already struggling amid a once-in-a-generation pandemic. The last thing people should have to worry about is having their bank accounts seized by healthcare providers, instead of focusing on getting well,” said Brown. “We should address existing inequities in our healthcare system and make it easier, not harder, for Ohioans to make ends meet during this crisis.”
Nearly one in four working-age American adults report having problems paying their medical bills. As our nation battles the COVID-19 pandemic, the financial and health consequences of medical debt are even more troubling. Reporting across the country has shown that some hospitals continue to seize bank accounts and garnish wages in order to collect medical debts, preventing Americans from using these funds to meet basic needs, like buying food or paying rent.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also underscored longstanding racial inequities in our healthcare system. Recent CDC data show that Black and Latino Americans are both more likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19, and more likely to die from COVID-19 compared to white Americans. These same communities face significantly higher rates of debt collection and wage garnishment while simultaneously having less accrued savings and wealth.
The COVID-19 Medical Debt Collection Relief Act would:
- Suspend all extraordinary collection actions by health care providers for all medical debt (e.g. wage garnishment, bank account seizure) during the covered period (i.e. from February 1, 2020 until the later of the end of the public health emergency or 18 months after enactment of this bill).
- Allow suspension of existing repayment plans during the covered period for any medical debt, and ensure reasonable forbearance and repayment options for consumers. Interest or fees shall not accrue while the payment plan is suspended.
- Require providers to notify patients with repayment plans of their ability to suspend them;
- Require HHS to issue guidance on best practices for notifying patients of this option, including taglines that point to language assistance services.
- Implement the following consumer protections for medical debt stemming from COVID-19-related testing and treatment that was incurred between February 1, 2020 and 60 days after the end of the public health emergency:
- One-year extension of federal and state health insurance appeal deadlines;
- Prohibition on accrual and collection of fees and interest related to these debts;
- Prohibition on any extraordinary collection actions.
- Hold health care providers and their agents liable for failure to comply.
The senators’ legislation is also cosponsored by Sens Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).