(Raleigh, N.C.) — State Treasurer Dale R. Folwell, CPA, spoke out for patient protections at a public forum on the Medical Debt De-Weaponization Act in Elizabeth City on Monday, Oct. 17. He was joined by community members interested in reforming health care in North Carolina.
Medical debt is crippling North Carolinians’ upward mobility and threatening to create generational poverty. One in five families is in medical debt collections. Workers lose 20% of their paycheck to health care costs on average. Nearly 40% of Americans reported cutting back on food, utilities or gas to pay health care bills. Health care costs drove almost half of adults to report delaying or skipping necessary medical care.
“We’re not backing down on this issue. Everybody knows that something is wrong,” Treasurer Folwell said. “We must solve this problem. Until we can figure out how to conserve our health care dollars, we’re never going to be able to figure out how to liberate our people from health care debt.”
The new legislation, House Bill 1039, would help working families avoid financial ruin just because they got sick. It would strengthen patients’ access to charity care, limit unfair tactics in debt collection and restrict the ability of large medical facilities to charge unreasonable interest rates on medical debt.
North Carolina is one of the most unaffordable and monopolistic states in the nation for health care. Too many hospitals in North Carolina have failed to equal more than $1.8 billion in tax exemptions with charity care spending. Instead, some hospitals billed $149 million to poor patients – or encouraged patients to open “medical credit cards” that can charge up to 18% interest on medical debt. Hospitals have even sued more than 1,000 patients for medical debt, including during the pandemic.
“The fact is that this is the Wild West,” Treasurer Folwell said. “Nobody’s watching it. Nobody’s holding them accountable. We need a commitment from the cartel to get back to their original mission: To put patients over profits. What we have now is profits over patients.”
Many hospitals are still hiding their prices. Patients can’t see what a procedure costs, but they’re left with little recourse when the bill arrives. North Carolina currently ranks in the bottom half of states for consumer protections. The Medical Debt De-Weaponization Act would make North Carolina second in the nation for consumer protections against medical debt.
“Right now, people are dealing with the highest inflation in 40 years. They are just trying to make ends meet,” said Treasurer Folwell. “In this economic environment, people should not be scared to seek medical attention because of things that may be associated with medical billing.”
The State Health Plan, a division of the N.C. Department of State Treasurer, provides health care coverage to nearly 750,000 teachers, current and former lawmakers, state university and community college personnel, active and retired state employees and their dependents. It is the largest purchaser of health care and prescription drugs in North Carolina. For more information, visit the SHP website.