Combatting medical debt for Marylanders: the virtual forum that can help residents struggling to pay medical bills


MARYLAND (WDVM) — The past 20 months have shown us just how important medical care is, and even more so how expensive it can be. Senator Chris Van Hollen wants to help Marylanders who are struggling with medical debt and who still might be uninsured. According to stats from a 2020 medical debt poll by Gonzales Research for the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition shows just how many Marylanders are struggling.

The study found that 21% of African Americans and 7% of white Marylanders polled had medical debt they were unable to pay. Furthermore, 24% of African American Marylanders delayed seeking health care due to concerns of the cost and 12% of white Marylanders did the same. The poll also breaks down the age groups, different ethnicities, and even the geographic regions, like metropolitan or rural areas, that are facing medical debt across the state.

The virtual forum highlighted legislation and resources at the state and federal levels currently in the works that will protect those facing financial struggles like the Build Back Better framework and the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.

Senator Chris Van Hollen explained that a key part of the Build Back Better agenda is to reduce the financial squeeze that families in Maryland and across the country are experiencing in many different areas. He believes that by reducing the costs of health care upfront, the risk of bankruptcy or financial struggles due to healthcare-related costs can be reduced.

Sen. Van Hollen went on to highlight the other important provisions of the Build Back Better agenda like lowering the cost of home health care and the Child Tax Credit. He explained that by lowering the costs of home health care, people with disabilities or who are older and cannot travel can afford better health care while in the comfort and convenience of their own homes. He highlighted the Child Tax Credit which could give families upwards of $300 more per month per child to help them cover everyday expenses like healthcare and medical costs.

Sen. Van Hollen also highlighted the importance of legislation he introduced called the Medical Debt Collection Relief Act. He explained that between 2009 in 2018, Maryland hospitals filed more than 145,000 lawsuits for more than $268 million in debt collection. The legislation was designed to put an end to what Van Hollen describes as “at least the most aggressive debt collection practices” during COVID-19.

“This is to make sure that at least during this period of maximum emergency, people aren’t facing the prospects of bankruptcy, which can lead them to lose their home or car or whatever else it may be,” Van Hollen said.

According to a study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 28 percent of Marylanders are eligible for Medicaid or other public health insurance. The open enrollment period for health care coverage is still open and if you want your health care coverage to start on January 1st, 2022, you must enroll by December 15th, 2021.

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