Illinois House Bill could help people avoid crushing medical debt

Photo: Matthew Henry/Burst
by Mark Richardson
Illinois News Connection

A new report finds thousands of low-income or uninsured people in Illinois face medical debt that is depleting their savings and, in some cases, affecting their health.

The report, from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, described situations where patients racked up big bills because they didn't know that hospitals or community agencies could offer financial assistance. House Bill 2719 was filed this week to require all Illinois hospitals to screen uninsured patients and inform them of their options for paying medical bills.

Luvia Quinones, senior director of health policy at the coalition, said many low-income and working-class people are unnecessarily losing sleep - and cash.

"Many of these individuals are actually eligible for something, whether it be some type of health coverage program or for hospital financial assistance," she said, "and unfortunately, many of them are not made aware of either of these services or programs."

The Illinois Department of Health Care and Family Services reported in 2021 that more than 900,000 people in the state were uninsured. It said one-third of them qualify for coverage under Medicaid or through the Insurance Marketplace, while others are eligible for hospital financial programs or charity care.

Most Democrats in the General Assembly support the bill, but Republicans have not publicly staked out a position. The measure is pending before the Health Care Availability and Accessibility Committee. Quinones said the bill's goal is ultimately to prevent excessive medical debt.

"By hospitals screening these individuals, you could prevent them both ending up in medical debt," she said, "and it could also help the hospitals to be able to get reimbursed for some of the services."

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