July 7, 2022
Maryland has the strongest medical debt consumer protection policies in the country, according to the Medical Debt Policy Scorecard developed by Innovation for Justice. This social justice innovation lab housed at the University of Arizona and the University of Utah gave Maryland medical debt policies a score of 94.5 out of 100, “based on current policies that reduce the instances of medical debt and effectively assist people experiencing medical debt.” The Public Justice Center’s Access to Health and Public Benefits Project, led by attorney Ashley Black, is proud to be among the advocates who have fought for strong medical debt protections, including the End Medical Debt Maryland Coalition, Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, 1199SEIU, Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, Progressive Maryland, and state legislators Delegate Lorig Charkoudian, Senator Antonio Hayes, and Senator Brian Feldman.
Together, we successfully advocated to pass the Medical Debt Protection Act in 2021 and HB 694 in 2022 to address the failure of Maryland’s hospitals to meet their obligation to provide charity care to eligible patients. The Medical Debt Protection Act contains a number of provisions that establish a strong foundation for protecting low-income Marylanders’ livelihoods, homes, and potential for intergenerational wealth transfer from harmful hospital medical debt collection practices. HB 694 requires the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission, in coordination with the Department of Human Services, the State designated exchange, the Office of the Comptroller, and the Maryland Hospital Association, to develop a process for identifying patients who paid for hospital services but may have qualified for free care and have the hospitals reimburse the patients. HB 694 covers patients who were wrongly charged between 2017-2021.
These laws build on previous successful advocacy efforts to protect the health and financial wellbeing of low-income families from medical debt collection, including the 2020 hospital financial assistance law (HB 1420) championed by Delegate Robbyn Lewis. This bill created several necessary protections for patients seeking financial assistance, including increasing family income threshold at which a hospital’s financial assistance policy must provide free and reduced cost medically necessary care to patients, requiring hospitals to develop payment plans for uninsured patients with family income between 200% and 500% of the federal poverty level, and putting in place a process for a patient to request reconsideration. You can view the Scorecard’s full ranking of Maryland’s medical debt policies here. Going forward, we will continue to advocate for to ensure that people can access healthcare without worrying about the cost.