Washington, DC – Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) have introduced legislation to help Americans burdened by the costs of illness or injury. The Medical Bankruptcy Fairness Act of 2016 (S. 3385) would make the bankruptcy process more forgiving for those driven to insolvency by health care-related debt or loss of income.
“With so many Americans living paycheck to paycheck, unexpected medical costs can quickly spiral into financial emergency. Unfortunately, the current bankruptcy process offers no acknowledgment that, unlike other debts, medical bills often cannot be avoided,” said Whitehouse. “This legislation would give families burdened by medical debt the opportunity to get a fresh financial start.”
“Far too many families are driven into bankruptcy in the aftermath of a serious medical problem, when hospital bills pile up or a family member loses a job,” said Senator Warren. “I’m pleased to join Senators Whitehouse and Durbin to introduce the Medical Bankruptcy Fairness Act. This bill will provide some relief for families facing crushing medical debt and help them get back on their feet through a fairer bankruptcy process.”
“Nobody should ever have to choose between their physical health and their financial health, yet far too many Americans are driven into bankruptcy when they or their loved ones are ill,” said Durbin. “I’m pleased to join my colleagues in introducing this bill, which would provide important safeguards for those bankrupted by medical issues outside of their control.”
The Medical Bankruptcy Fairness Act would offer a more tailored bankruptcy process for individuals with large medical bills or who lose income due to an illness or injury or to care for a family member. It would also cover people who lose alimony or child support due to the medical condition of the person responsible to pay. For these “medical debtors,” the bill would:
- Waive procedural hurdles, such as credit counseling requirements, that make little sense for those driven to bankruptcy by medical issues;
- Allow for the forgiveness of student loan debt, which is currently prohibited in bankruptcy for all debtors; and
- Help families keep their homes by allowing them to maintain at least $250,000 in property.
Out-of-pocket medical costs—like deductibles, doctor’s office co-pays, and prescription drugs—pushed more than 11 million Americans below the poverty line in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Whitehouse and Warren introduced similar legislation in the 113th Congress.