Rohit Chopra and Joe Biden

Rohit Chopra, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, shakes hands with President Joe Biden on March 5, 2024.

(Photo: Gabriella Demczuk/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Sanders Applauds CFPB Move to Ban Medical Debt From Credit Reports

"It is immoral that families are being evicted, having their heat disconnected, or having their wages garnished because of crippling medical debt," said Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday welcomed news that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will soon announce rules to prevent medical debt from appearing on Americans' credit reports, a move the Vermont senator called "an important step in the right direction."

"It is immoral that families are being evicted, having their heat disconnected, or having their wages garnished because of crippling medical debt while the healthcare industry made more than $100 billion in profits last year," Sanders, the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, wrote on social media.

The Washington Postreported that the Biden administration's new rules, expected to be unveiled Tuesday, would "block medical debt from being used to evaluate borrowers' fitness for mortgages and other types of loans."

The rules, according to the Post, would "ban credit reporting agencies from incorporating medical debt when calculating credit scores" and "bar lenders from using medical debt to determine loan eligibility."

"The proposal will undergo weeks of public comment—meaning this November's election will probably determine whether the measures are finalized," the newspaper added. "GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump did not seek to remove medical debt from consumers' credit reports during his four years in the White House."

"People's credit scores are being unjustly and inappropriately harmed by this practice."

The CFPB, headed by longtime consumer advocate Rohit Chopra, estimated in April that 15 million people in the U.S. have medical bills on their credit reports despite recent changes by Equifax and other major credit reporting agencies, which announced last year that they would remove medical collection debt of $500 or less from consumer credit reports.

The 15 million Americans with medical debt on their credit reports "disproportionately live in the South and low-income communities," the CFPB observed in its April analysis. "Collectively, they have more than $49 billion in outstanding medical bills in collections."

KFF, a health policy organization, estimates based on government data that roughly 3 million U.S. adults owe medical debt of more than $10,000. Most Americans with medical debt owe money to hospitals, according to an Urban Institute analysis.

KFF Health Newsreported in late 2022 that "hundreds of U.S. hospitals maintain policies to aggressively pursue patients for unpaid bills, using tactics such as lawsuits, selling patient accounts to debt buyers, and reporting patients to credit rating agencies."

Out of a sample of more than 500 hospitals across the U.S., KFF Health News found that "more than two-thirds sue patients or take other legal action against them, such as garnishing wages or placing liens on property."

In an interview with ABC News Tuesday morning, Chopra said that CFPB "research shows that medical bills on your credit report aren't even predictive of whether you'll repay another type of loan."

"That means people's credit scores are being unjustly and inappropriately harmed by this practice," Chopra said, noting that the CFPB estimates 22,000 additional Americans would be approved for mortgages each year if the new rules are allowed to take effect.

The CFPB is set to release the new rules a month after Sanders joined Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and other progressive lawmakers in introducing legislation that would eliminate the roughly $220 billion in medical debt collectively held by tens of millions of Americans.

The bill, titled the Medical Debt Cancellation Act, would also wipe all outstanding medical debt from credit reports.

"This is the United States of America, the richest country in the history of the world," Sanders said last month. "People in our country should not be going bankrupt because they got cancer and could not afford to pay their medical bills. No one in America should face financial ruin because of the outrageous cost of an unexpected medical emergency or a hospital stay."

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