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Between the lines of Bernie Sanders' plan to eliminate medical debt

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"