Medical Debt Sunk Her Credit. New Changes From the Credit Reporting Agencies Won’t Help.

by | Oct 6, 2022 | Health

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — After a year of chemo and radiation, doctors told Penelope “Penny” Wingard in 2014 that her breast cancer was in remission. She’d been praying for this good news. But it also meant she no longer qualified for a program in her state that offers temporary Medicaid coverage to patients undergoing active breast cancer treatment.

Wingard became uninsured. She’d survived the medical toll, but the financial toll was ongoing.

Bills for follow-up appointments, blood tests, and scans quickly piled up. Soon, her oncologist said he wouldn’t see her until she paid down the debt.

“My hair hadn’t even grown back from chemo,” Wingard said, “and I couldn’t see my oncologist.”

Medical debt has sunk her credit score so low that she has struggled to qualify for loans, and applying for jobs and apartments has become a harrowing experience.

“It’s like you’re being punished for being sick,” Wingard said.

Earlier this year, when three national credit agencies announced new policies to deal with medical debt, consumer advocates celebrated, thinking it’d provide relief for patients like Wingard. But it turns out the changes aren’t enough to help her or many other Black and low-income patients, who are often the ones hit hardest by medical debt.

Under the new policies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion will remove from credit reports any paid debts or those that were less than $500, even if unpaid. This doesn’t wipe out what people owe, but t …

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