CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Medical debt is the leading cause of bankruptcy according to the National Consumer Law Center, but it's also a problem North Carolina lawmakers want to find solutions to with the help of potential new legislation.
Two proposed bills suggest expanding Medicaid and strengthening financial protections for medical patients as some of the first steps. If the bipartisan bills pass NC State Treasurer Dale Folwell said it could potentially place North Carolina second in the country for protecting consumers.
“It is pro-consumer, pro-family and anti-poverty," Folwell said.
The legislation could also directly benefit patients like Terry Belk. He said back in 2003 his wife was diagnosed with cancer. Several years later he also had his own battle with cancer. Belk said their insurance covered only part of the care and the medical bills started to pile up.
“We were bullied by Charlotte Mecklenburg Hospital Authority with their attorney and naïve as we were we signed a deed of trust," Belk said.
Now there's a $23,000 deed of trust on his home along with another judgment that was also recently filed.
“That judgment is for $10,000 plus 10 years of interest and attorney fees… an astronomical amount of money," Belk said.
And studies show these debt collections disproportionately impact low-income, minority communities.
The state treasurer adds one of the biggest concerns is when these medical bills aren't paid it can start to affect a person's credit score which can have even greater impacts.
“Stop going after people’s houses when they don’t pay their health care bill and stop weaponizing their credit score which permanently stunts their joy of achievement and upward mobility in life," Folwell said.
According to the North Carolina Department of State Treasurer, health care systems like Atrium Health made a $1.7 billion net profit in 2021. The state believes more of that money could go to charity care helping patients cover their bills.
Atrium Health reports in the last year they provided a record amount of community benefit funding. About $340 million was used to cover financial assistance for those uninsured or underinsured.
Right now the medical debt bill is under review in the House committee. There is a limited time left in the session for the bill to pass through the House and Senate before becoming law.