Sep 23, 2019

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"

Go deeper

Joe Biden's higher education plan includes free community college

Joe Biden speaking at a candidate forum. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Joe Biden's 2020 campaign unveiled a $750 billion higher education plan Tuesday that includes tuition-free community and technical college — with the federal government picking up 75% of the cost and allowing states to cover the rest — as well as more generous federal college loan programs, per the AP.

The state of play: Biden's plan isn't as far reaching as those put forth by his opponents, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who both offer plans exceeding $1 trillion. Sanders' plan proposes eliminating all student loan debt, while Warren calls for broad debt relief based on income.

Go deeper ... Debt-free college: Where the 2020 presidential candidates stand

Bernie Sanders “misspoke" about slowing down his 2020 campaign

Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders said he "misspoke" on Wednesday after suggesting he planned to slow his presidential campaign down following a heart attack and medical procedure, instead promising to get back to a "very vigorous campaign," NBC reports.

"I said a word I should not have said and media drives me a little bit nuts to make a big deal about it.”
— Bernie Sanders
Go deeperArrowUpdated Oct 9, 2019

Bernie Sanders secures Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsement at New York rally

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks to a crowd of supporters for Sen. Bernie Sanders during a campaign rally on Oct. 19 in New York City. Photo: JOHANNES EISELE / Contributor/Getty Images

2020 candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Saturday held his first campaign rally since his recent heart attack and surgery, joined by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)

Why it matters: Sanders formally secured the coveted Ocasio-Cortez endorsement during the rally in Queens. The support shows Sanders is still a "formidable contender" and shifts the "conversation away from his health issues and age, infusing his campaign with a renewed sense of vitality," writes the New York Times.

Go deeperArrowOct 19, 2019