Commentary: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Monday signed The Patients’ Debt Collection Protection Act into law, ensuring that New Mexico patients can get the care they need without ending up buried in debt.
“Medical debt is the worst thing I’ve ever had to recover from,” said Anna Rondon, a McKinley County mother and grandmother who spent years trying to repair her credit after she was unable to pay unexpected hospital and ambulance bills related to emergency gallbladder surgery. “Under this law, New Mexicans like me can stay healthy without going bankrupt.”
SB 71, sponsored by Sen. Katy Duhigg and carried in the House by Rep. Debbie Armstrong, helps patients avoid devastating medical debt by requiring hospitals, urgent care centers, and other healthcare facilities to work with patients to identify possible coverage options and provide clear billing information. Not only does this requirement help patients pay their medical expenses, it also gives the healthcare facility a reliable payment source, which reduces their uncompensated care costs.
For people living below 200 percent of the poverty level, the bill also prevents healthcare facilities—and third-party medical providers working in those facilities who bill separately—from sending patients to collections or filing medical debt lawsuits against them.
“Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s action will make healthcare more accessible for all New Mexicans,” said Nicolas Cordova, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “No one should have to choose between putting food on the table or going to the doctor. The Patients’ Debt Protection Act is literally life-changing.”
Prior to the passage of SB 71, thousands of patients in New Mexico were being sued for unpaid medical bills, having their wages garnished, liens placed on their homes, and their credit ruined. Carlsbad Medical Center made national headlines for suing patients who couldn’t pay their bills.
Medical debt has a devastating impact on the well-being of patients. In fact, one in five Americans is pursued by debt collectors for medical debts, and 59 percent of all negative items on consumer credit reports are due to medical debt.
“New Mexicans have a reason to celebrate today,” said Dr. Anjali Taneja, executive director of
Casa de Salud, a medical clinic in Albuquerque. “The pandemic has shown us, more than ever, how much New Mexicans need access to care. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signing the Patients’ Debt Collection Protection Act is a win for patients and for our state.”
NM Together for Healthcare is a statewide, multiracial coalition of families and community organizations working together to strengthen healthcare access in New Mexico, supported by Forward Together Action, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, and Health Action New Mexico. Follow the campaign on Facebook @NMTogether4Healthcare and Twitter @NMT4HC.Commentary: