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Press Call by the Vice President on an Announcement to Ease the Burden of Medical Debt on American Family Budgets

September 21, 2023

Via Teleconference

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. And good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us to address a subject that is critical to millions of Americans, and that's the issue of the tremendous burden of medical debt.

And I will tell you, I've traveled the country and met with families from every region who talk about and -- and often silently suffer under the burden and weight of this debt.

And President Biden and I are firm, therefore, in the belief that access to healthcare should be a right and not a privilege just for those who can afford it. And that means that no one in our nation should have to go into debt just to get the quality healthcare that they need.

However, right now in our country, one in three adults -- some 100 million Americans -- struggle with unpaid medical bills. They just can't afford those bills. A disproportionate number are Black, Latino, or live in rural areas. Many of these debt -- of the debt that people have accrued are due to a medical emergency -- a student with a burst appendix, a grandmother who took a nasty fall -- and, years later, they are still paying off tens of thousands of dollars in bills that they didn't plan to have.

For years, this medical debt has also harmed people's credit scores. And this is a point of emphasis: We know credit scores determine whether a person can have economic health and well -- well-being, much less the ability to grow their wealth. Because think about it: Credit scores determine whether a person can buy a home, whether they can buy a car, rent an apartment, or own a small business.

Today, we are offering a solution to fix this problem. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will propose a new rule to make clear that medical debt cannot impact the credit scores of the American people. Once this rule is final, it will mean, one, that consumer credit reports will not include medical debt and, two, that creditors will not be able to use medical debt to determine a person's eligibility for credit.

Together, these measures will improve the credit scores of millions of Americans so that they will better be able to invest in their future. For example, more people will qualify for a car loan. Instead of taking three buses to work, they can drive themselves. More working people will qualify for a home mortgage from a local bank instead of continuing to pay rent or resorting to a predatory lender. That home, in turn, will help them to pass on intergenerational wealth. And it will be easier for entrepreneurs to get a loan and open a small business, which we know benefits the economy of entire communities.

I have spent my entire career fighting to lower medical bills for families and to protect consumers. When I was attorney general of California, I intervened in the merger of hospitals that could have resulted in less competition and increased cost for patients.

As a United States senator during the pandemic, I worked to reduce out-of-pocket healthcare costs.

And since taking office, President Biden and I have focused on the burden of medical debt, ensuring consumers know that they have the right to contest inaccurate charges on their medical bills and how to file a dispute; cracking down on debt collectors who threaten, harass, and deceive consumers. We cancelled or refunded about $1 billion in copays for more than one and a half million veterans, and we continue to work to bring down the cost of healthcare.

By one, we capped the cost of insulin at $35 a month, and we will cap the cost of prescription drugs for our seniors -- the total cost -- at $2,000 a year. We allowed Medicare to negotiate the price of medications with Big Pharma companies to the benefit of 65 million Americans.

And President Biden and I will continue to create a future where every person has the opportunity to build wealth and, in turn, build a stronger economy that benefits us all.

So, I thank you for participating in this call. And I will now turn it over to the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Rohit Chopra.

And I thank you for the work that you do, Mr. Director. And you are indeed a leader in the fight to reduce the burden of medical debt. Thank you.

Kamala Harris, Press Call by the Vice President on an Announcement to Ease the Burden of Medical Debt on American Family Budgets Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/365285

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