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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Sen. Bernie Sanders released his 2020 plan to cancel $81 billion in existing medical debt, reform collections practices and change bankruptcy rules this weekend.

Why it matters: The proposal speaks directly to the issues of surprise medical bills and hospitals' lawsuits against patients — issues that have only recently entered the political lexicon.

The big picture: It also, of course, is a simple solution to the problem of unaffordable health care costs, a top issue for voters and one that has only become more prominent with the rise of deductibles and other forms of cost-sharing.

Yes, but: It's not hard at all to imagine how this will play with those who already think Sanders has made ludicrous financial proposals.

Between the lines: Sanders would have the federal government "negotiate and pay off past-due medical bills in collections that have been reported to credit agencies," per the plan.

  • But medical debt often doesn't get paid, so collectors will sell it for cheap. Craig Antico, founder of the nonprofit charity R.I.P. Medical Debt — which buys and absolves health care debt in bulk — told NYT that the market price for $81 billion in debt could be as low as $500 million.

How it works, via Axios' Orion Rummler:

  • Have the IRS review billing and collection practices of nonprofit hospitals.
  • Replace for-profit credit reporting agencies with a "secure public credit registry."
  • Stop requiring the disclosure of medical debt discharge on housing and loan applications.

What we're watching: Sanders' embrace of "Medicare for All" has transformed the Democratic party, pulling it much further left on health care. It's unclear if his stance on medical debt will play the same way, and how the rest of the 2020 field will respond.

Go deeper: Hospital lawsuits unearth "cracks in our system"

Go deeper

37 mins ago - Health

CDC: It's time for "universal face mask use"

Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

The CDC is urging “universal face mask use” for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, citing recent case spikes as the U.S. has entered a phase of “high-level transmission” before winter officially begins.

Why it matters: Daily COVID-related deaths across the U.S. hit a new record on Wednesday. Face coverings have been shown to increase protection of the wearer and those around them, despite some Americans' reluctance to use them.

2 hours ago - World

Saudi Arabia and Qatar near deal to end standoff, sources say

Qatar's prime minister (R) attends the 2019 Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Saudi Arabia. Photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are close to a deal to end the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf following U.S.-mediated reconciliation talks this week, sources familiar with the talks tell me.

Why it matters: Restoring relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar would bring a sense of stability back to the Gulf after a 3.5 year standoff. It could also notch a last-minute achievement for the Trump administration before Jan. 20.

House passes bill to decriminalize marijuana

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a longtime marijuana legalization advocate and co-sponsor of the bill. Photo: Pete Marovich For The Washington Post via Getty Images

The House on Friday voted 228-164 in favor of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, marking the first time a congressional chamber has voted in favor of decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level.

Why it matters: The Washington Post describes the bill as a "landmark retreat in the nation’s decades-long war on drugs," which has disproportionately affected people of color.