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Pair of Maine bills aimed at limiting medical debt

The State House in Augusta at dusk on November 9, 2022.
Esta Pratt-Kielley
Maine Public
The State House in Augusta at dusk on November 9, 2022.

More than 40% of Mainers have medical debt, according to a recent survey by Consumers for Affordable Health Care. Two bills before state lawmakers aim to reduce some of that burden.

One bill, sponsored by Democratic Senate President Troy Jackson, places consumer safeguards around the use of medical credit cards.

Financial companies market these cards to providers, who then promote them to patients to pay medical bills. The appeal is that there's no interest charged for several months. But after that time has passed, consumers are often charged retroactively for the full amount of interest that would have accrued from the original date.

Ann Woloson, executive director of Consumers for Affordable Health Care, says those rates are exorbitant and push people even further into debt.

"You're going to be charged 29 to 30 percent," she says. "So I think providers like it because they need to get paid and they get paid, but they may not be aware of what's happening to their patients."

Another bill, sponsored by Democratic Senator Mike Tipping, targets medical debt sold to third parties. It would bar providers from selling medical debt at a discount to debt collectors without first offering that same discounted rate to patients.

A spokesperson for the Maine Hospital Association says they oppose Tipping's bill, and had no comment on Jackson's.