On July 7th, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department of Treasury (collectively, the agencies) jointly issued a Request for Information (Request) seeking public comment on medical credit cards, loans, and other financial products used to pay for health care. Specifically, the agencies are interested in information regarding whether these products contribute to health care cost inflation, displace hospital provided financial assistance, lead to inaccurate or inflated medical bills, inflate bills due to financing costs, or otherwise harm patients financially.

In the press release that accompanied the release of the Request, the agencies explained the reasoning behind the Request as, “medical payment products are now also used to pay for a broader set of services, including emergency room visits and primary and specialty care. Even when medical care may otherwise be covered by insurance or financial assistance, patients may be pitched these products by their health care providers who then pass the administration of patient billing and collections over to financial service companies.” According to the agencies, healthcare providers may be disincentivized to adequately explain financial assistance programs to patients before offering these products.

On this basis, the agencies are seeking information about:

  • The market.
    • What are the benefits and costs of medical payment products for consumers and health care providers?
    • Are there specific populations or geographic regions that experience disproportionately higher utilization of medical payment products?
    • How do medical payment products and health insurance coverage interact?
    • What incentives do financial services companies offer health care providers?
    • How much total debt do consumers carry on medical credit cards and what is the average individual debt?
  • The consumer experience.
    • If you have used a medical credit card or loan to pay for your care, what was your experience?
    • Have you ever felt pressured to pay for care using a medical payment product?
    • Have you ever had an overdue bill on a medical credit card or loan sent to collections, and, if so, how did it affect your financial well-being?

The request will be published in the Federal Register and the public will have 60 days to submit comments.

Our Take:

Medical debt remains an area of increasing focus for CFPB Director Chopra. As discussed here, the CFPB recently entered a consent order against a medical debt collector for alleged violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act and Fair Debt Collection Practices Act relating to collection letters sent to consumers who had disputed the validity or accuracy of the debts. In addition to this recent initiative at the federal level, states also continue to enact new legislation imposing additional disclosure requirements on both healthcare providers and those providing patients with options to pay their increasing shares of healthcare costs. The ultimate impact of this attention — and whether it will address the underlying core issue of rising healthcare costs — remains to be seen.