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The Medical Debt Protection Act passes!

April 15, 2021

We’re excited to share that the Medical Debt Protection Act passed the Maryland General Assembly in March and is headed for the Governor’s desk. The bill is a strong foundation for protecting low-income Marylanders’ livelihoods, homes, and potential for intergenerational wealth transfer from harmful hospital medical debt collection practices.

This victory was a team effort. PJC attorney Ashley Black worked with bill sponsors Delegate Lorig Charkoudian and Senator Brian Feldman and End Medical Debt Maryland, a coalition of 57 organizations and more than 350,000 advocates and individuals with lived experience with medical debt. As Senate Bill (SB) 514 / House Bill (HB) 565 progressed through legislature, the coalition demonstrated hospitals’ tenancy to sue patients, mostly people of color and women, for relatively small amounts of debt instead of using the millions of dollars in charity care funding they receive to cover the cost of care for patients who cannot afford their medical bills. A report from the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission (HSCRC) showed that hospitals turned 60% of patients eligible for free care over to debt collectors, resulting in these patients paying approximately $60 million statewide. Hospitals have garnished wages, placed liens on homes and have devastated the lives of low-income Marylanders. All this for an average debt of $944. These practices have continued during the COVID-19 pandemic, when only about one third of Maryland hospitals stopped suing patients.

The coalition successfully fought off several attempts to weaken the bill. While we were disappointed that the opposition removed a provision that would have banned lawsuits by hospitals for debts under $1,000, the bill contains many important provisions that will benefit thousands of Marylanders. Here are some of the major components of the Medical Debt Protection Act:

HB 565 / SB 514 unanimously passed the House and Senate and is on its way to the Governor. With this legislation, Maryland has positioned itself to have one of the strongest medical debt laws in the country.  Please take a moment to urge Governor Hogan to sign the bill here. Going forward, the PJC will advocate with the End Medical Debt Maryland coalition for additional safeguards to ensure that people can access healthcare without worrying about the cost. To learn more, check out End Medical Debt Maryland on Facebook and Twitter.

 

[1] A brief explanation of body attachment in Maryland: A creditor can ask a court to issue an order directing law enforcement or a sheriff to bring the debtor before the court to answer questions and explain themselves. This type of warrant is typically used for civil contempt, where an individual fails to show up for a hearing. https://ricelawmd.com/body-attachment-warrant-maryland/.