- State Treasurer Dale R. Folwell, CPA, held a public hearing on the Medical Debt De-Weaponization Act in Asheville on Wednesday, Sept. 7. Treasurer Folwell was joined by Brevard Mayor Maureen Copelof and Dr. Mitchell Li of Take Medicine Back, as well as patients and community advocates. They listened to patients' stories about medical billing and discussed the need for accountability and patient protections.
Medical debt is crippling North Carolinians' upward mobility and threatening to create generational poverty. One in five families is in medical debt collections. Workers lose 20% of their paycheck to health care costs on average. Nearly 40% of Americans reported cutting back on food, utilities or gas to pay health care bills. Health care costs drove almost half of adults to report delaying or skipping necessary medical care.
"The stories we hear are heartbreaking,"
Treasurer Folwell said, adding, "Everyone knows that something is wrong, especially in Western North Carolina."
The new legislation, House Bill 1039, would help working families avoid financial ruin just because they got sick. It would strengthen patients' access to charity care, limit unfair tactics in debt collection and restrict the ability of large medical facilities to charge unreasonable interest rates on medical debt.
North Carolina is one of the most unaffordable and monopolistic states in the nation for health care.
Too many hospitals in North Carolina have failed to equal their tax exemption with charity care spending. Instead, some hospitals billed $149 million to poor patients - or encouraged patients to open "medical credit cards"
that can charge up to 18% interest on medical debt. Hospitals have even sued more than 1,000 patients for medical debt, including during the pandemic.
"Health care is one of the most critical things that every elected official needs to get involved with,"
said Mayor Copelof. "Your stories are heartbreaking. I listen to them, and I say, 'How in God's name did we get to where we are right now?' It's unbelievable, but it's where we are right now. And we've got to figure out how to change things. ... We're not to going to stand by and watch while people are demonized while medicine is turned into a corporate money machine."
"Patients don't go to the hospital at the end. They actually do die at home, unnecessarily and prematurely,"
said Dr. Li. "This is affecting physicians and nurses and patients all over the country. All the legislators see are the high-paid lobbyists from HCA and Atrium and all those folks. We need to tell the real story."
Too many hospitals are still hiding their prices. Patients can't see what a procedure costs, but they're left with little recourse when the bill comes. North Carolina currently ranks in the bottom half of states for consumer protections. The Medical Debt De-Weaponization Act would make North Carolina second in the nation for consumer protections against medical debt.
"I want to thank all of you for advocating for the invisible,"
said Treasurer Folwell. "People shouldn't be fearful about getting medical attention in this state because of their fear of a medical bill or having their credit rating weaponized."
The SHP, a division of the N.C. Department of State Treasurer, provides health care coverage to nearly 750,000 teachers, current and former lawmakers, state university and community college personnel, active and retired state employees and their dependents. It is the largest purchaser of health care and prescription drugs in North Carolina. For more information, visit the SHP website