FILE PHOTO: 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign event in West Branch, Iowa, U.S., August 19, 2019. REUTERS/Al Drago/File Photo
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. presidential contender Bernie Sanders proposed a plan on Saturday to cancel $81 billion in existing past-due medical debt for Americans, but offered no details on how it would be financed.
Sanders, an independent U.S. senator from Vermont, said in a statement that under his plan, the government would negotiate and pay off past-due medical bills that have been reported to credit agencies. The proposal, he said, would also repeal some elements of the 2005 Bankruptcy reform bill and allow other existing and future medical debt to be discharged.
“In the United States of America, your financial life and future should not be destroyed because you or a member of your family gets sick,” said Sanders. “That is unacceptable. I am sick and tired of seeing over 500,000 Americans declare bankruptcy each year because they cannot pay off the outrageous cost of a medical emergency or a hospital stay.”
According to Sanders, medical debt is the leading cause of consumer bankruptcy, with more than half a million Americans filing due to medical expenses each year. He said the 2005 Bankruptcy reform bill made it difficult to discharge medical debt by imposing strict means tests and eliminated fundamental consumer protections for Americans.
“It also trapped families with medical debt in long-term poverty, mandated that they pay for credit counseling before filing for bankruptcy, and increased the need for expensive legal services when filing a case for medical bankruptcy,” the senator said.
Sanders is seeking the Democratic nomination, along with more than a dozen other candidates, for the right to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in November 2020.
Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Dan Grebler