Debate Over N.M. Medical Debt Collection Bill Leads to F-Bomb, Vow of Filibuster on State Senate Floor

A verbal altercation broke out on the New Mexico Senate floor yesterday, leading one Senator in favor of a bill aimed at preventing healthcare providers from placing collection accounts or filing lawsuits against certain low-income individuals to drop an F-bomb toward one of his compatriots who is opposing the bill and used a parliamentary procedure to stall process on the proposed legislation.

State Sen. Peter Wirth, the majority leader in the New Mexico Senate, confronted State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, who opposes the bill because he thinks it would not protect enough protections for poor individuals, according to a published report. The bill was passed out of a state Senate committee last week and was being considered by the entire Senate. Sen. Candelaria had vowed to filibuster any attempt to pass the bill.

Sen. Wirth was attempting to get Sen. Candelaria to add an amendment to the bill to address his concerns rather than have the bill’s progress stalled altogether, according to the report. Sen. Wirth declined an interview, but issued a statement through a spokesman that did not refute the allegations made by Sen. Candelaria.

The Senate ended up moving on to other business, which kept Sen. Candelaria from beginning his filibuster.

For individuals designated as “indigent patients” because their household income does not exceed 200% of the federal poverty level, healthcare providers would be prohibited from the following actions under the bill, SB 71:

  • Selling a person’s medical debt to another party, including a medical debt collector
  • Reporting adverse information about a patient to a consumer reporting agency
  • Placing a lien on an individual’s property
  • Seizing funds from a bank account
  • Garnishing wages
  • Commencing a civil action

Healthcare providers would also be required to post their prices on their websites. Providers, creditors, and collectors would also be required to send receipts to individuals within 10 days of receipt of payment that include the following information:

  • The amount paid
  • The date payment was received
  • The account balance before the most recent payment
  • The new balance after the application of the payment
  • The interest rate and interest accrued since the last payment
  • The account number
  • The name of the current owner of the debt and, if different, the name of the medical creditor
  • Whether the payment is accepted as payment in full of the debt

Violations of the statute would constitute unfair or deceptive trade practices under the state’s Unfair Practices Act and consumers may sue for injunctive relief or appropriate equitable relief.

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