Letters to CFPB, IRS and Treasury Kick Off Effort by More Than 60 Groups to Get the Administration to do More on Medical Debt

Six Figure Digital Ad Campaign to Feature Stories of People Impacted by Medical Debt

For Immediate Release: Tuesday, March 7, 2023 

Contact: Jack Cardinal, (781) 960-5208, jcardinal@communitycatalyst.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. – More than 60 groups launched a campaign urging the Biden-Harris administration to do more to relieve medical debt for tens of millions of people. The campaign, led by Community Catalyst, sent two letters — one to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Department of Treasury, and another to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) — with specific executive actions the administration can take.  

No one should have to exhaust their life savings or retirement accounts, or lose their housing because they got sick. But in the United States, four in ten adults are saddled with medical debt that often forces them to cut back on basic needs. The driver behind medical debt is simple — there aren’t enough protections in place for people. The burden is disproportionately carried by adults without insurance, women, Black and Hispanic adults, parents, immigrants, and those with lower incomes.

For more than 15 years, Community Catalyst has led the fight to eliminate medical debt in the United States. Emily Stewart, executive director of Community Catalyst, released a statement on the launch of the campaign:

“Getting medical care is a life-long debt sentence for far too many in America. That’s why a broad coalition of organizations — representing civil and human rights, economic fairness, and health justice — have come together to push for specific actions the Biden administration can take to provide people with relief. This campaign is backed by thousands and thousands of people across the country who are experiencing medical debt and understand how urgently strong protections are needed.

“The Biden administration can and must do more to strengthen medical debt protections, eliminate aggressive debt collection practices, and hold health systems accountable to fair prices and billing practices. We appreciate the Biden administration’s commitment  to this issue, and as a coalition we are proposing additional action that is sensible, community-informed, and doable. 

“The bottom line is that people are being harmed by an unfair system. The faulty fundamentals of the medical debt crisis in the United States remain in place — and must be addressed in bigger ways by the administration. Everyone should get the care they want and need to be healthy, without fear of going into debt.”

In addition to the letters, Community Catalyst is launching a new six-figure digital ad campaign to amplify the stories of those impacted by medical debt and reinforce the importance of executive action that is community-driven and centered in race equity and health justice.

While the number of people with medical debt fell by 8.2 million, or 18 percent, between 2020 and 2022, the faulty fundamentals of the medical debt crisis keep millions more without relief — ever. The policy recommendations are endorsed by dozens of local, state and national groups — and they will have an immediate and tangible impact on people.

The letter sent to the IRS and Department of Treasury urges the administration to:

  • Bolster financial assistance policies to prevent people from incurring medical debt in the first place.
  • Regulate excessive charges from non-profit hospitals who are obligated to provide charity care or financial assistance to patients.
  • Protect people from harsh billing and collection practices like foreclosures, wage garnishment, and bank account seizures.
  • Strengthen enforcement of regulations to be considered and receive tax breaks as a non-profit hospital.

View the full letter and signers here.

The letter sent to the CFPB urges the administration to:

  • Prohibit medical debt from showing up on credit reports by enhancing protections in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
  • Eliminate deferred interest in medical credit cards (often referred to as “buy now, pay later”).
  • Undertake aggressive enforcement against unfair, deceptive, and abusive hospital practices which can prevent debt from being waived or forgiven by hospital policies.

View the full letter and signers here.

  • In addition to the letters, Community Catalyst and partner advocates are collecting petition signatures urging the Biden administration to act. You can find more details on how medical debt holds millions of people back here:
  • “My biggest issue is life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness — and how the health care was set up almost took out all three of them.” – Waiting for the Bill: Kaylynn’s Story
  • “I can very much remember the angst that I felt around that time of having bills that I literally could not pay.” – Planting Seeds for Change: SOWEGA Rising
  • “It was just a difficult time — to try to juggle making sure the bills are paid, making sure that I’m getting the right treatment. It was just all overwhelming.” – Between Life and Debt: Aracely’s Story
  • “What the whole country should know is that health care is not a business. Health care is a right.” – Advocacy in Action: Sahida’s Story 
  • For Angelina, it was a matter of life and death. But the surgery was very expensive, and the surgeon refused to operate if she couldn’t pay. “This news was very shocking and upsetting.” – Mano a Mano: Suzy’s Story

In the weeks and months ahead, Community Catalyst and partners will keep telling the story of how medical debt harms people, organizing med debt petitions and events for people impacted by it, pushing for face-to-face meetings with people in the administration who care deeply about this issue and have the power to help, and more.

To speak with Community Catalyst, a partner organization or medical debt storyteller, please contact Deputy Director of Communications Jack Cardinal at <jcardinal@communitycatalyst.org> or (781) 960-5208. 

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About Community Catalyst:

Community Catalyst is a leading non-profit national health advocacy organization dedicated to advancing a movement for race equity and health justice. We partner with local, state and national advocates to leverage and build power so all people can influence decisions that affect their health. Health systems will not be accountable to people without a fully engaged and organized community voice. That’s why we work every day to ensure people’s interests are represented wherever important decisions about health and health care are made: in communities, state houses and on Capitol Hill. For more information, visit http://www.communitycatalyst.org. Follow us on Twitter @CommCatHealth.