Majority of Americans favor federal action to relieve medical debt amid rising healthcare costs: Poll

New poll reveals strong support for medical debt relief across the U.S., highlighting a significant burden on millions of Americans and sparking renewed calls for legislative action.

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A new poll from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research reveals strong support for medical debt relief across the U.S. According to the poll, a majority of Americans believe it is crucial for the government to provide relief to those burdened with medical debt, highlighting the significant financial strain on millions of citizens.

The survey found that 51% of Americans think it’s extremely or very important for the U.S. government to offer medical debt relief, while another 30% believe it is somewhat important. This widespread support comes as a beacon of hope for the roughly 14 million Americans who owe $1,000 or more in medical debt—a common cause of bankruptcy in the U.S.—and the even greater number who have medical debt on their credit reports.

Janille Williams, a 38-year-old retail sales manager in Fairbanks, Alaska, is among those facing substantial medical debt. Williams accumulated $50,000 in medical debt following a life-saving hospitalization for a blood infection. “They don’t give you a choice in the hospital. ‘If you leave, you’ll die,’ they told me. I didn’t feel like dying,” he said. “I don’t think anyone should have to go into financial ruin to live.”

Earlier this month, progressive lawmakers, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), introduced the Medical Debt Cancellation Act in both houses of Congress. The bill aims to prevent the collection of previously accrued debt, establish a federal program for canceling medical debt, and implement measures to limit future medical debts. Certain states and cities, leveraging funds from the 2021 federal stimulus package, have already taken action to forgive medical debt.

The Biden administration has also taken steps to alleviate medical debt burdens. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently announced new rules that will forbid the inclusion of medical debt on credit reports, a move designed to prevent debt collectors from “using the credit reporting system to coerce people to pay.” Vice President Kamala Harris voiced her support for the new CFPB rules, emphasizing the detrimental impact of medical debt on Americans’ financial opportunities.

“Medical debt makes it more difficult for millions of Americans to be approved for a car loan, a home loan, or a small business loan,” Harris stated. “All of which in turn makes it more difficult to just get by, much less get ahead. And that is simply not fair.”

The poll revealed that support for medical debt relief is particularly strong among those with personal experience of medical debt or billing issues. For example, people who have experienced healthcare fraud favor medical debt relief by a margin of 66% to 10%, and those with large medical debts relative to their income favor it by 56% to 14%.

The data showed significant support for medical debt relief among Democrats, with 65% expressing strong support, compared to 31% of Republicans. However, members of both parties showed some level of support, with only a small proportion deeming the issue unimportant. The poll was conducted with a sample of 1,309 Americans between May 16 and May 21, 2024.

Medical debt disproportionately affects low- and middle-income individuals, middle-aged people, and Black Americans, according to the Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker. Matt Haskell, a 24-year-old from Englewood, Florida, supports medical debt relief following his own expensive hospitalization. Haskell incurred $4,500 in debt after needing emergency treatment for a metal flake embedded in his cornea.

“I generally think it’s never anybody’s fault when they have a medical condition,” Haskell said. “If they get cancer or a tumor or have an episode from undiagnosed diabetes—it’s not someone’s fault if they develop something and now they’re thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.”

Denise Early, a 65-year-old Independent from Omaha, Nebraska, also supports medical debt relief. Early faced significant medical bills following job-related injuries that eventually led to knee and ankle surgeries. “I still get bills every day,” Early said. “Forgiveness would help clear a lot of my debts.”

The burden of medical debt remains a significant issue for many Americans. Ed Kane, a 71-year-old Republican from Chicopee, Massachusetts, opposes medical debt forgiveness, believing that individuals should work hard to avoid debt. “We are starting to become a nation that gives away everything. And I’m tired of it,” Kane said. “I’ve worked hard all my life. I worked two jobs. I had great medical insurance because of it. Everybody can do it; there’s no reason that people can’t reach a higher level than they do.”

Overall, the poll indicates strong support for medical debt relief across the political spectrum, with Democrats showing higher overall support. As Vice President Kamala Harris stated, “Medical debt makes it more difficult for millions of Americans to be approved for a car loan, a home loan, or a small business loan. All of which in turn makes it more difficult to just get by, much less get ahead. And that is simply not fair.”

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Alexandra Jacobo is a dedicated progressive writer, activist, and mother with a deep-rooted passion for social justice and political engagement. Her journey into political activism began in 2011 at Zuccotti Park, where she supported the Occupy movement by distributing blankets to occupiers, marking the start of her earnest commitment to progressive causes. Driven by a desire to educate and inspire, Alexandra focuses her writing on a range of progressive issues, aiming to foster positive change both domestically and internationally. Her work is characterized by a strong commitment to community empowerment and a belief in the power of informed public action. As a mother, Alexandra brings a unique and personal perspective to her activism, understanding the importance of shaping a better world for future generations. Her writing not only highlights the challenges we face but also champions the potential for collective action to create a more equitable and sustainable world.

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