May 30, 2023

Julia previously served as the Connelly Policy Advocate at CCLP, supporting CCLP's legal and legislative efforts to advance economic justice and racial equity in Colorado.

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Medical debt on credit reports: harmful and unnecessary

by | May 30, 2023

On Wednesday, February 22, 2023, Julia Char Gilbert, CCLP’s Connelly Policy Advocate, provided testimony to the House Business Affairs & Labor Committee for House Bill 23-1126, Medical Debt Credit Reporting Protections. CCLP is in support of HB23-1126.

 

Madame Chair and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.

My name is Julia Char Gilbert. I’m the Connelly Policy Advocate at the Colorado Center on Law and Policy. And I am here today on behalf of CCLP in strong support of House Bill 23-1126.

CCLP is a nonprofit dedicated to the fight against poverty in Colorado. Medical debt is an important issue to CCLP because medical debt exacerbates inequities and creates barriers to economic stability for Colorado families.

Others who have spoken today have underscored how credit reporting of medical debt harms Coloradans and compounds the physical, mental, and financial stress of illness and injury.

I will focus my remarks on why medical debt is a poor predictor of creditworthiness and why it is therefore not necessary for medical debt information to be included on credit reports.

Medical debt is not a good predictor of creditworthiness because medical debt is not like other types of debt:

  • Medical debt is typically incurred involuntarily and unexpectedly.
  • The healthcare system and the billing process in particular are also uniquely confusing and opaque. Patients routinely have bills sent to collections that should have been covered by insurance. And many don’t even know they have medical debt in collections until they are denied housing or a loan on that basis.
  • Additionally, medical providers do not alert the credit bureaus when you make on-time payments on medical bills, the way that debt collectors share information when you’re late on a payment. This asymmetry in reporting means consumers lose when medical information is included on credit reports.
  • Finally, the credit reporting system is riddled with errors. One-third of consumers have errors on their credit reports. Medical debt information is particularly susceptible to errors. Medical collections are disputed seven times more frequently than student loans and three times more frequently than credit card debt. These errors not only harm consumers; they also contaminate the quality of the data that lenders, landlords, and others use when making important decisions.

With all this in mind, leaders in the credit industry have begun moving away from the use of medical debt information. VantageScore has announced its newest credit scoring models will no longer consider medical debt. And the federal government has begun to eliminate consideration of medical debt in all federal lending programs.

These changes will help people across the country, and they demonstrate that it is simply not necessary for credit scores to consider medical debt in order to be predictive.

In closing, this bill is an opportunity to provide needed relief to 700,000 Coloradans and their families. At no cost to the state, it would improve health outcomes, grow small businesses, and keep our neighbors housed. Giving Coloradans with medical debt a fair chance helps our economy, and it helps our communities thrive.

Again, thank you for your time, and I welcome any questions you may have.

 

Sincerely,

Julia Char Gilbert

Connelly Policy Advocate

Colorado Center on Law and Policy

 

HB23-1126 passed the Colorado Legislature and is awaiting the Governor’s signature!

Recent articles

CCLP testifies in support of Clean Slate updates

Bethany Pray, CCLP’s Chief Legal and Policy Officer, provided testimony in support of House Bill 24-1133, Criminal Record Sealing & Expungement Changes. CCLP is in support of HB24-1133, as it is one of our priority bills.

CCLP testifies in support of TANF grant rule change

CCLP's Emeritus Advisor, Chaer Robert, provided written testimony in support of the CDHS rule on the COLA increase for TANF recipients. If the rule is adopted, the cost of living increase would go into effect on July 1, 2024.

HEALTH:
HEALTH FIRST COLORADO (MEDICAID)

To maintain health and well-being, people of all ages need access to quality health care that improves outcomes and reduces costs for the community. Health First Colorado, the state's Medicaid program, is public health insurance for low-income Coloradans who qualify. The program is funded jointly by a federal-state partnership and is administered by the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing.

Benefits of the program include behavioral health, dental services, emergency care, family planning services, hospitalization, laboratory services, maternity care, newborn care, outpatient care, prescription drugs, preventive and wellness services, primary care and rehabilitative services.

In tandem with the Affordable Care Act, Colorado expanded Medicaid eligibility in 2013 - providing hundreds of thousands of adults with incomes less than 133% FPL with health insurance for the first time increasing the health and economic well-being of these Coloradans. Most of the money for newly eligible Medicaid clients has been covered by the federal government, which will gradually decrease its contribution to 90% by 2020.

Other populations eligible for Medicaid include children, who qualify with income up to 142% FPL, pregnant women with household income under 195% FPL, and adults with dependent children with household income under 68% FPL.

Some analyses indicate that Colorado's investment in Medicaid will pay off in the long run by reducing spending on programs for the uninsured.

FOOD SECURITY:
SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (SNAP)

Hunger, though often invisible, affects everyone. It impacts people's physical, mental and emotional health and can be a culprit of obesity, depression, acute and chronic illnesses and other preventable medical conditions. Hunger also hinders education and productivity, not only stunting a child's overall well-being and academic achievement, but consuming an adult's ability to be a focused, industrious member of society. Even those who have never worried about having enough food experience the ripple effects of hunger, which seeps into our communities and erodes our state's economy.

Community resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, exist to ensure that families and individuals can purchase groceries, with the average benefit being about $1.40 per meal, per person.

Funding for SNAP comes from the USDA, but the administrative costs are split between local, state, and federal governments. Yet, the lack of investment in a strong, effective SNAP program impedes Colorado's progress in becoming the healthiest state in the nation and providing a better, brighter future for all. Indeed, Colorado ranks 44th in the nation for access to SNAP and lost out on more than $261 million in grocery sales due to a large access gap in SNAP enrollment.

See the Food Assistance (SNAP) Benefit Calculator to get an estimate of your eligibility for food benefits.

FOOD SECURITY:
SPECIAL SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION PROGRAM FOR WOMEN, INFANTS AND CHILDREN (WIC)

Every child deserves the nutritional resources needed to get a healthy start on life both inside and outside the mother's womb. In particular, good nutrition and health care is critical for establishing a strong foundation that could affect a child's future physical and mental health, academic achievement and economic productivity. Likewise, the inability to access good nutrition and health care endangers the very integrity of that foundation.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition information for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Research has shown that WIC has played an important role in improving birth outcomes and containing health care costs, resulting in longer pregnancies, fewer infant deaths, a greater likelihood of receiving prenatal care, improved infant-feeding practices, and immunization rates

Financial Security:
Colorado Works

In building a foundation for self-sufficiency, some Colorado families need some extra tools to ensure they can weather challenging financial circumstances and obtain basic resources to help them and their communities reach their potential.

Colorado Works is Colorado's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and provides public assistance to families in need. The Colorado Works program is designed to assist participants in becoming self-sufficient by strengthening the economic and social stability of families. The program provides monthly cash assistance and support services to eligible Colorado families.

The program is primarily funded by a federal block grant to the state. Counties also contribute about 20% of the cost.

EARLY LEARNING:
COLORADO CHILD CARE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (CCCAP)

Child care is a must for working families. Along with ensuring that parents can work or obtain job skills training to improve their families' economic security, studies show that quality child care improves children's academic performance, career development and health outcomes.

Yet despite these proven benefits, low-income families often struggle with the cost of child care. Colorado ranks among the top 10 most expensive states in the country for center-based child care. For families with an infant, full-time enrollment at a child care center cost an average of $15,140 a year-or about three-quarters of the total income of a family of three living at the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) provides child care assistance to parents who are working, searching for employment or participating in training, and parents who are enrolled in the Colorado Works Program and need child care services to support their efforts toward self-sufficiency. Most of the money for CCCAP comes from the federal Child Care and Development Fund. Each county can set their own income eligibility limit as long as it is at or above 165% of the federal poverty level and does not exceed 85% of area median income.

Unfortunately, while the need is growing, only an estimated one-quarter of all eligible children in the state are served by CCCAP. Low reimbursement rates have also resulted in fewer providers willing to accept CCCAP subsidies.