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A Pandemic Burden: Medical Debt



I have grown up witnessing the injustice and negligence inside the health care system, from watching my parents skip medical appointments to avoid paying copayments to seeing my sister open her emergency department bill after suffering from anaphylactic shock. According to an article from Kaiser Health News in 2022, 55 hospitals filed lawsuits against roughly 5,900 patients in 2020. They sued patients almost as quickly as they did during the five years prior when there was no pandemic. For many people, access to health care has been and is still a constant challenge. Hospitals receive funding from various sources, but they also demand that patients pay their debt by suing them during a pandemic. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for New Yorkers increased from 3.9% to 9.3% between January and October 2020, causing many people to lose their homes, struggle to pay their bills, and other issues. These issues must be made public because we are dealing with numerous epidemics while our resources and means of survival have slowed down. Patients also need more financial aid, which is another challenge that may be resolved if hospitals give their employees the effective training and information they need to assist patients. 

The Medical Debt Relief Act is one bill that should be passed to assist patients with handling their medical debt. The proposed legislation calls for the deletion of paid or settled medical debt from consumer credit reports and a one-year extension before the medical debt is reported. This act establishes a one-year waiting time before medical debt can be listed on a person’s credit record. One year for individuals to negotiate, resolve, or repay their debt. Although one year is an improvement, it may not be enough time given the recovery and aftermath of those who have been impacted by COVID. 

My experiences with medical debt portray the negative sides of the health care system. Witnessing my immigrant parents struggling to speak up for themselves due to the language barrier upsets me. They are often taken advantage of because they do not have the resources to defend themselves. If this has happened to my parents, it has happened to many others around the country in more unfortunate situations. Large corporations profit from the underprivileged because they are assured the assets required to win a battle, even if their actions are wrong. I urge New York policymakers to reconsider the rules that govern how charitable hospitals resolve patient medical debt recovery. This will allow people to resolve their debt in a fair way.

Ameema Wasim is an 18-year-old college student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, majoring in Criminal Justice Management. She has previously been involved with creating campaigns for climate change and canvassing for members running for City Council.