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WV advocates: eliminate medical debt from credit scores

Nadia Ramlagan

West Virginia healthcare advocates are applauding a recent proposed rule by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to remove medical bills from credit reports.

As of last summer, about 5% of Americans had unpaid medical bills on their credit reports.

Healthcare Organizer with West Virginia Citizen Action Group Mindy Salango said more West Virginians are being forced to find ways to pay out of pocket, relying on credit cards and crowdfunding websites.

She added patients often receive unexpected medical bills and struggle to understand costs, making it difficult to compare medical debt to other loans.

“When you’re going for an emergency surgery, they don’t give you an outline of all the charges that you’re going to be hit with,” said Salango. “They do the surgery, and then you get the bill. If you go in to buy a car, they give you paperwork; you know exactly what you’re signing on the dotted line for.”

The proposed rule would close a regulatory loophole that has kept vast amounts of medical debt information in the credit reporting system, and would help prevent debt collectors from coercing payments for inaccurate or false medical bills, according to the Bureau.

Medical debt can lead to missed rent or mortgage payments, denied rental applications, and eviction. One study found 27% of Americans with medical debt have experienced housing-related problems.

Salango said erasing medical debt from credit reports will help more West Virginians stay in their homes.

“If you take these this off of a credit report,” said Salango, “it’s going to allow people to move into more stable situations.”

She added there’s been a significant spike in health insurance companies denying coverage, leaving consumers saddled with hefty bills.

“We’re really fighting both federally and at a state level to stop these insurance companies from using predatory denials,” said Salango. “Many of them are currently using AI to do initial denials.”

West Virginia Citizen Action Group is hosting a town hall on June 25 in Huntington to help empower residents to dispute denials and understand how changes to Medicaid may affect their coverage.

More information about the event is online at wvcag.org.