CNN – Three of the nation’s largest credit reporting agencies are removing nearly 70% of medical debt from consumer credit reports, the companies said in a joint statement Friday.
Effective July 1, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion will no longer include medical debts that have been subject to collections on consumer credit reports once they have been paid off. This will eliminate billions of dollars in debt from consumer records.
In addition, unpaid medical collection debts will not appear on credit reports in the first year, when the previous grace period was six months, the three companies said. This will give people more time to work with their insurers or healthcare providers to settle the bills.
And starting in the first half of 2023, medical collection debts under $500 will no longer be included in credit reports.
Medical debt placed on credit reports can make it harder for consumers to access credit or secure jobs and homes, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said in a report released earlier this month. It can also increase their risk of bankruptcy and cause them to avoid future care from Medicare.
Even after the bills are paid, the debt can linger for up to seven years on credit reports.
The three companies said they made the move after months of research.
“Medical collection debts often result from unforeseen medical circumstances. These changes are another step we are taking together to help people across the United States focus on their financial and personal well-being,” the companies said. in a joint statement.
The announcement follows CFPB research that shows Americans had racked up $88 billion in medical debt on consumer credit files as of June 2021. It’s the most common debt collection on files of credit, the bureau said.
Medical debt can be volatile and unpredictable, and can negatively affect many financially secure consumers. Black, Hispanic, young and low-income consumers are most likely to be affected by medical debt, the bureau said.
Concerns about medical debt have grown since the Covid-19 pandemic hospitalized millions, and CFPB director Rohit Chopra has publicly criticized credit reporting agencies’ collection of medical debt. On March 1, Chopra said the CFPB would “look closely” at the big three credit bureaus.
“We expect them to take seriously their role as major players in the credit reporting system, a system whose integrity and accuracy can determine the financial future of hundreds of millions of people. “, said Chopra.
Lawyers for the National Consumer Law Center applauded the move, though they warned it would not help the most vulnerable patients whose serious illnesses or accidents have resulted in large medical bills.
“We are thrilled that the credit bureaus are removing the vast majority of medical debt from credit reports,” said Chi Chi Wu, attorney for the center, in a statement. “Medical debt has damaged the credit reports of tens of millions of consumers for far too long.”
Nearly one in 10 Americans has medical debt
Although more than 90% of the nation has health insurance, medical debt remains a major problem for millions of Americans, according to a recently released Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of US Census Bureau data. Indeed, many insured persons still have to deal with high deductibles and out-of-pocket costs.
“A serious injury or illness can cost thousands of dollars to meet these deductibles and other cost-sharing requirements,” the authors of the analysis wrote. “For people with a chronic condition, even smaller co-payments and other cost-sharing expenses can add up to unaffordable amounts.”
About 23 million people, or 9% of adults, owed more than $250 in healthcare costs, which Kaiser describes as a significant debt, as of December 2019.
About 1% of all adults owed more than $10,000, Kaiser found. This group accounts for the vast majority of all medical debt owed.
Americans between the ages of 35 and 64 accounted for the highest share of those reporting at least $250 in medical debt. Seniors, who are eligible for Medicare, have the lowest rate.
Black Americans are much more likely to have significant medical debt, with 16% saying they owe at least $250, compared to 9% of White and Hispanic Americans and 4% of Asian Americans.
Some 11% of women reported having medical debt, compared to 8% of men. Part of the difference is likely related to the costs of childbirth and women’s lower average income, Kaiser said.
Americans living in rural areas, the South, and states that did not extend Medicaid to low-income adults were more likely to have large medical debt.
Census Bureau data suggests Americans owed at least $195 billion in medical debt in 2019, Kaiser found. The figure is much higher than the CFPB because credit reporting companies cannot see all medical debt and not all adults have credit reports.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to clarify that credit reporting companies are removing medical debts that have been paid off from reports beginning July 1.
The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia company. All rights reserved.