American consumers are routinely hounded over medical bills they don’t even owe.
That’s according to a new report issued Thursday (Nov. 16) by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which found that 15% of the complaints the bureau received last year were about debt collectors trying to settle an allegedly unpaid medical bill.
“Tens of millions of people are pursued by debt collectors for medical bills, and today’s report highlights the problem of the collection of medical bills that are inaccurate or not owed,” the bureau said in a news release.
“The CFPB has previously described the significant evidence, including reports from consumers themselves, that the collection, furnishing, and reporting of medical bills is plagued by inaccuracies.”
According to the release, the CFPB last year received thousands of consumer complaints about medical debt collection, with these complaints dealing with bills that had already been paid, were not owed by the patient or their family or were for inaccurate amounts.
The CFPB says its report stresses that medical debt collectors may be violating federal law when they try to collect bills that are not actually owed or are the wrong amount.
“Collecting debts that are actually not owed or collecting wrong amounts may violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or the Consumer Financial Protection Act’s prohibition on unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices,” the bureau said.
In September, the CFPB outlined updates to its medical debt rulemaking that would change the way medical bills are handled in credit reports and credit decisions.
“First, they would remove medical bills from credit reports,” PYMNTS wrote at the time. “Consumer reporting companies would be prohibited from including medical debts and collection information on consumer reports used by creditors for underwriting decisions.”
In addition, the new rules would bar creditors from using medical bills for underwriting decisions. The bureau also wants to narrow the 2005 exception that permits creditors to rely on medical collections information when gauging borrowers’ credit applications.
The CFPB’s efforts to ease the burden of improper medical debt collection comes as Americans are dealing with other forms of debt pressure, like the $1 trillion in credit card debt now being carried by consumers.
A report by the bureau issued last month showed that an increasing number of U.S. card holders are carrying balances month to month, missing monthly payments and going more than 180 days delinquent.
The report also found that almost 10% of credit card users are in “persistent debt,” which means they are charged more in interest and fees per year than they pay toward the principal.
“Pandemic relief programs in 2020 and 2021 enabled some card holders to pay down credit card balances, but the number of people facing persistent debt could climb if interest rates remain elevated,” the CFPB said in a news release.