The Medical Debt Responsibility Act


The Medical Debt Responsibility Act, which has most recently been championed by Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Representative Maxine Waters of California, appears to be very close to dead, according to many sources.

The bill, which has for three years attempted to pass in Congress, seeks to minimize the impact of medical debt on a person’s credit score by mandating that all medical debt be cleared from a person’s credit history within 45 days of resolving it. Since its inception, the bill has been the subject of some controversy, and has been primarily backed by democratic representatives.

Medical Debt Responsibility Act and the Affordable Care Act

One reason critics believe that the Medical Debt Responsibility Act may be unnecessary and even excessive is that the Affordable Care Act, which has already begun rolling out, seeks to give similar protection to patients. The Affordable Care Act seeks to make healthcare more affordable to Americans on all levels of the financial spectrum. A major component of the Affordable Care Act is offering health insurance to individuals at lower costs.

The Affordable Care Act also sets higher standards for hospitals in terms of the ways they must strive to make health care as affordable as possible for patients by offering options like negotiable rates, payments, and access to grants or other charity programs. Opponents of the medical debt responsibility act contend that with these new standards in place, patients who continue to rack up exorbitant medical debt may indeed be a greater financial risk and thus should carry a lower credit score.

Bill Originally Intended to Help Patients In Accidental Debt

Advocates for the bill have argued since its inception that protections are in order for patients who fall into debt not as a result of financial negligence but because they are legitimately too sick to realize that their bills have become overdue at all. Individuals who do not have a family member or other support system available to help sort through bills may be at high risk for inadvertently allowing bills to go to collections.

Further, patients who have undergone very severe procedures may be at a higher risk for receiving bills that are not accurate because the more doctors and specialists a patient sees, the higher the probability is of a bill containing an error. Even patients who are in fairly good health may have a hard time understanding bills without consulting their doctor’s or hospital’s billing department, and those who are very sick or heavily medicated are likely to miss out on the chance to clarify questions surrounding their medical bill.

Billing Error and Collection Agencies

In the event that the Medical Debt Responsibility Act is effectively killed in Congress, consumer advocates argue that further safeguards should be placed on the billing process so that there is some recourse for patients who have been wrongly billed and suffered subsequent negative credit reports.

Currently, even if a bill is inaccurate, it causes permanent damage to a patient’s credit if it is sent to a credit reporting agency. Perhaps even if legislation is not passed to limit the degree to which medical debt may affect a person’s credit, there may be some process by which a person who has been charged in and reported to agencies in error may reverse negative scoring on their credit.

Future Bleak For Medical Debt Responsibility Act

It seems certain that regardless of whether future legislation is on the horizon to reform medical debt reporting, the Medical Debt Responsibility Act faces too many opponents in its current incarnation to hope to be passed at this time or in the foreseeable future.