Wipe away your hospital bills? Gov. Lamont pitches canceling medical debt

Gov. Lamont wants to spend $20 million in federal relief money to clear away up to $2 billion in medical bills across the state. That's just a penny on the dollar.

John Craven

May 11, 2023, 10:15 PM

Updated 348 days ago

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One trip to the hospital can leave you drowning in bills. Gov. Ned Lamont wants to cancel thousands of patients’ medical debt, but his plan is on life support at the State Capitol.
DROWNING IN DEBT
Dennis Thomas, of Rocky Hill, knows the struggle all too well. He racked up more than $10,000 in expenses after a heart transplant.
“It is overwhelming at times,” said Thomas. “Do you get this medication, or do you keep the lights on?”
Thomas joined Lamont at Trinity Health in Hartford on Thursday, hoping lawmakers will fund his plan to erase medical debt for qualifying patients.
“Medical debt hovers like a cloud over families,” said Lamont. “Tens of thousands of families.”
ERASING MEDICAL DEBT
Trinity recently wiped out 22,300 patients’ past-due accounts by selling them to a nonprofit called RIP Medical Debt.
Lamont wants to spend $20 million in federal relief money to clear away up to $2 billion in medical bills across the state. That's just a penny on the dollar.
How is that possible? Those bills are already in collections and hospitals are eager to get them off the books – even at a big loss – because patients are unlikely to be able to pay.
“Sometimes particularly when you're receiving coverage, you don't really understand all of the elements of deductible, co-pays, and coverage until you are sick. And at that point, it's too late,” said Trinity Health CEO Montez Carter.
If Lamont’s plan passes, you wouldn't have to do anything if you qualify for relief. A nonprofit would simply buy your medical debt and send you a letter saying all, or part of it, is paid off.
PROPOSAL ON LIFE SUPPORT
Connecticut would be the first state in the nation to cancel medical debt, although cities like Toledo Ohio have done it.
But many lawmakers wonder if it's a waste of money. Neither Republicans nor Lamont's fellow Democrats included the medical debt plan in their budget proposals.
“Are we just retiring debt that is uncollectible anyway? Or are we actually retiring debt for people who are struggling to pay it?”, said state Rep. Vin Candelora (R-North Branford), the GOP leader in the Connecticut House, in February.
But the administration said it's a smart investment.
“Help them get their credit ratings, help them get back in the game, help them get their mortgage,” Lamont said. “All the things that, that medical debt hangs over you.”
Democratic State Comptroller Sean Scanlon said erasing medical debt is a no-brainer, if lawmakers want to save the middle-class money.
“When the car breaks down and the bill piles up and inflation kicks your butt at the grocery store or wherever it is for back-to-school shopping, all those things add up,” he said.
GOP leaders are offering a different solution.
"The Senate Republicans’ $1.5 Billion Back Budget funds a reinsurance program which can reduce premiums by 30%,” said state Sen. Kevin Kelly (R-Stratford), the Senate GOP leader. “That’s an annual saving to the average family of four of $7,000, or almost $600 a month. That’s real money for real people.”


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