GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — For many families, mounting medical debt can be a crushing burden. Bills can quickly accumulate into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, leaving them unable to pay.
Relief could soon be on the way, though, with North Carolina lawmakers’ latest attempt to fix the problem with the Medical Debt De-Weaponization Act.
On Monday, the North Carolina Senate unanimously passed bill SB321, which limits hospitals from moving as aggressively as they can now to collect debts. The bill establishes an appeals process and simplifies access to financial aid for eligible individuals. It also stops loved ones from inheriting debts after a patient’s death.
Most hospitals in the state operate as nonprofits with the ability to write off unpaid bills on their taxes as charitable care. However, State Treasurer Dale Folwell says most have ignored this designation and have been going after patients who have been eligible for that charity care.
“We want them to stop weaponizing people’s credit scores, and that’s what this bill addresses,” Folwell said.
Erin Williams-Reavis, a Greensboro resident, shared her experience of being burdened by medical debt.
“People are scared to go to the hospital. They’re afraid to be sick,” Williams-Reavis said.
When her husband got sick, the mother of three had enough to worry about, but she never expected the hospital bill would be at the top of her list.
“My first thought was, ‘This is ridiculous,'” she said. “I think the two and a half months he was in the hospital all in without insurance…exceeded the original purchase price of our home.”
Reavis tried to pay the bill that would eventually be inherited by her and her children if her husband passed. But she’s barely made a dent and still owes $295,000.
“We should all want the person standing to our right and left to have the best access to medical care, and it doesn’t matter if they can afford it,” Williams-Reavis said.
It’s important to note that this bill must still be voted on by the state House.
Folwell says with unanimous approval in the Senate, he believes that “it has a good chance of being enacted.”