Issue Brief
November 2009

Medical Debt: What States are doing to Help Consumers

Paying for health care is becoming increasingly difficult for American families. Fewer workers are receiving health coverage through their jobs, and those who do have job-based coverage face rising out-of-pocket costs. Not surprisingly, more families are going into debt trying to pay for the health care they need. 

Some states have taken action to ensure that low-income, uninsured, or underinsured Americans are charged fair prices for their care, do not face high interest charges when they cannot afford to pay their medical bills immediately, and are protected from aggressive debt collection practices. This brief looks at four kinds of state protections:

  • Hospital Billing and Financial Assistance Laws: A handful of states have passed fairly comprehensive laws that establish requirements for charity care and that restrict hospitals’ billing and collection practices.
  • Legal Agreements with Hospitals about Fair Prices and Debt Collection: Some states have formal legal agreements with certain hospitals or hospital systems about their charity care and billing policies.
  • Protections against Balance Billing: A few states protect insured patients from the large bills that can come when they have to use out-of-network providers.
  • Protections from Certain Collection Practices for People with Medical Deb: Several states provide special exemptions to people with medical debt to protect more of their incomes from collection, or to prevent them from losing their homes.