Our Medical Debt Testimony

By Erin Macey

To our great dismay, the committee hearing that was scheduled on SB 276 - Health Care Costs & Debt was cancelled. In other words, no legislation addressing medical debt will move forward this session. Here is what we would have liked to share with the committee:

The Indiana Community Action Poverty Institute works with Indiana's 22 Community  Action Agencies to conduct community needs assessments related to the causes of Hoosiers’ financial distress. In 2020, for the first time, we included a set of questions in our survey about types of debt. Among the 5,822 survey respondents (typically low-income Hoosiers) nearly 40% reported that they had medical debt IN COLLECTIONS. These results were stunning.

So, we decided to dig deeper. In 2022, we published a report that took a deeper look at medical debt in Indiana. We explored its negative impact on credit scores, ability to meet basic needs, decisions about whether or not to seek health care, and mental health. We also learned Indiana is an outlier: Indiana has the highest share of its population with a medical debt in collections compared to its Midwest neighbors and overall, it has the eleventh highest share of its population with a medical debt in collections. 

Behind these staggering numbers are stories. Here are a few of the countless Hoosiers who have been impacted by medical debt: 

  • Deborah Fisher from Indianapolis suffered for three decades because after several miscarriages, she finally had a baby – a miracle baby – who survived, but spent considerable time in the NICU. Her wages were garnished and eventually she lost her home. “It felt like I was trying to make my way back up the ladder, only to fall back down to the bottom. It was like being punished and re-punished all over again — all because I had a baby that needed medical care.”  
  • Joyce Fleck in Jasper watched her sister, Jayne, struggle with medical bills as she fought cancer. "Jayne lived a very humble life and was such a good person.  To this day, I still cannot think of a single instance when I was upset with her.  That’s almost unheard of with siblings. I have to wonder how much longer my sister could have lived if her medical debts were put on hold while she was trying to recover.  Or if she wouldn’t have had to lose precious time waiting for the proper level of insurance coverage to be approved. It was just awful watching her go through this."
  • Sonya Paul from Muncie, who was diagnosed with breast cancer shared that both she and her husband lost their home and both filed bankruptcy. Medical bills took all of their savings for retirement. "I think what is also hard is you realize you’ve had this American dream and it just gets snatched away from you so quickly. You are in poverty before you even realize it’s coming.”

Clearly, there are so many whose lives are affected. This is probably why, in just a couple weeks, 35 organizations and 48 individuals from counties across Indiana signed on in support of SB 276.

All Hoosiers deserve an Indiana where they can have a baby, receive treatment, or live out their last days without crushing medical debt. This session was a missed opportunity to address the issue, which means there will be more ruined credit scores, more bankruptcies, more health care decisions driven by fear about the cost, and more stress and anxiety.

But, we can use the year ahead to build momentum. We can and should ask all candidates what they will do to address medical debt so that next year, change can be made. We should continue to tell our stories - in the media and to policymakers - so they know the human impact of the problem. We should keep digging to understand why so many are burdened with unmangeable debt. The Institute is prepared to do its part - will you join us?

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