AUSTIN - State Representative Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) has filed House Bill 1441 to protect consumers from having their credit devastated by astronomical medical debts incurred by emergency healthcare to save their life.
“Texans should no longer have to live a heartbeat away from bankruptcy,” Bohac said. “Short of Donald Trump, even the most financially responsible consumer may not be able to handle the high costs of emergency medical care or the detrimental and unsolicited effect it can have on their credit.”
The bill would ban healthcare providers and debt collection agencies from furnishing information to a credit bureau for bills resulting from necessary medical treatment for a life-threatening condition. A recent Harvard study published in Health Affairs, a journal of health policy thought and research, indicated that illness and medical bills contributed to about half of all bankruptcy filings in 2001, affecting nearly 2.2 million Americans.
“Having a heart attack or stroke is not a choice, and a victim should not be treated as if they had applied for a loan or opened a line of credit,” Bohac said.
To ensure that consumers are truly protected, HB 1441 also states that a person who provides medical treatment or a debt collector who violates this law is liable to the patient for three times the amount of actual damages to the consumer or $1,000 plus attorney and court fees, whichever is greater.
“No one wants to have a life-threatening emergency that puts them in the hospital,” Bohac said. “But the last thing they need is to have the credit score vultures circling to scavenge what’s left. In Texas, we don’t kick each other when we’re down.”
Many health insurance policies have proven to be anemic in the face of a major medical emergency and do not provide enough coverage to prevent severe credit damage. The negative credit effects are also compounded by the fact that medical emergencies are many times followed by job loss, loss of insurance coverage and loss of income.
“Choosing to go into debt with a credit card is one thing,” Bohac continued. “Having your life depend upon it is another. Let’s not turn off the financial life support to those whose only risky investment was having their life saved.”
HB 1441 originally set out to restrict credit bureaus directly from reporting emergency medical debt on a consumer credit report. However, the Fair Credit Reporting Act passed by Congress prohibits states from adopting laws that regulate consumer credit bureaus. In light of the federal law, HB 1441 instead seeks to stop healthcare providers and collection agencies from reporting these non-elective, non-optional expenses to credit bureaus in the first place.
“The shock of knowing you will spend the rest of your life in debt is enough to give the patient another heart attack,” Bohac said. “Even with health insurance, the bills for emergency care can be overwhelming and beyond anyone’s ability to pay. This is completely different from elective healthcare where the patient chooses to have a treatment for a non-life threatening issue. It’s time we come together to help Texans in need instead of just sending them an invoice.”