On April 11, Vice President Kamala Harris announced actions intended to reduce the burden of medical debt. These actions include:
- Data Collection on Medical Debt Collection Practices: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will request data from more than 2,000 providers on medical bill collection practices, lawsuits against patients, financial assistance, financial product offerings, and third-party contracting or debt buying practices. Moving forward, HHS will weigh this information in grantmaking decisions, publish topline data and policy recommendations for the public, and share potential violations with the relevant enforcement agencies of jurisdiction.
- Changing Underwriting Guidance for Federal Credit Programs: The administration is providing guidance to all relevant agencies that eliminates medical debt as a factor in lending decisions for federal credit programs, to the extent allowable by law. This includes programs administered by the Department of Agriculture, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Small Business Administration, and Federal Housing Financing Agency.
- Assistance for Veterans: The VA will streamline the process to request forgiveness of VA medical debt. This includes offering an online option to apply and setting a simple income threshold to qualify for relief. The VA will also stop reporting unfavorable debt, including medical debt, to consumer reporting agencies.
- Increase Consumer Education: The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau will release new consumer education tools designed to help navigate the medical billing landscape. These resources will include materials specifically designed to help patients access financial assistance.
Given the continued focus by the administration on medical debt, CHA encourages members who have not yet reaffirmed their commitment to the American Hospital Association’s (AHA) voluntary patient billing guidelines to take this opportunity to do so. The guidelines are largely adapted from what is already required in federal law for tax-exempt hospitals and very similar to California state law. For questions about your organization making the Patient Billing Guidelines Affirmation, contact Megan Howard (firstname.lastname@example.org) or AHA at (800) 530-9092.