Illness and medical emergencies can happen to anyone, without warning. They’re some of the scariest moments in anyone’s life. And instead of being able to focus on your family’s heath, suddenly you’re coordinating calls with insurance companies, nervously checking your savings account, and spending hours trying to get answers.
And too often, soon afterwards the debt collectors start calling.
That is why I’m calling on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to create a new consumer watchdog position for medical debt.
Right now, an estimated 43 million Americans hold $88 billion in medical debt on their credit reports, and this problem is growing.
And abusive debt collectors make this already exhausting experience worse.
They call constantly, they make threats, they even contact patients’ employers. Harassment is part of the business model – especially for Wall Street private equity firms, that own more and more debt collection companies.
If the calls don’t work, debt collectors often move on to even more aggressive tactics like litigation – which can result in garnished wages or property liens.
No one should have their financial future ruined because they get sick.
A medical debt ombudsman would help consumers resolve complaints, and make sure companies are complying with federal laws, like the ban on surprise medical bills that we recently passed into law.
That ban on surprise bills took effect January 1st, and is going to make a big difference for a lot of families in keeping their medical bills under control.
We also need to keep the pressure on companies.
Last month, after increasing public scrutiny and pressure from the CFPB, the three credit reporting bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—all announced they would remove most medical debt from credit reports. This is a positive first step.
Now, we need a consumer watchdog to make sure they follow through, and to be a voice for all Americans.
I’ll continue to work with my colleagues on ways to protect Ohioans from medical debt, deliver real savings for Ohioans, and give people peace of mind to focus on their health and recovery – not exorbitant medical bills.
Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) represents the state in the U.S. Senate.