CFPB Report Analyzes Consumer Complaints on Medical Debts, Some ‘Feel Forced’ to Pay Debts Not Owed

Using consumer complaints to draw conclusions about potential issues with how medical debts are billed and collected is a lot like taking a picture with your finger covering up part of the lens — you’re definitely not getting the whole picture. You’ll get part of it, for sure, but there are going to be pieces, perhaps important ones, that just don’t make it into the shot.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau yesterday released a report using the complaints submitted by consumers related to issues with medical debts to conclude that a lot of people “feel forced” to pay debts that have already been paid or were never owed to begin with, and that credit reporting healthcare debts can be “coercive” and “used as a weapon” to get people to pay debts they do not owe, according to the Director of the CFPB.

The report is the latest in a string of statements and reports from the CFPB with respect to medical debts and credit reporting. About 15% of all debt collection complaints submitted by consumers in 2021 — about 750,000 in total — were related to attempts to collect a medical debt. Most of the complaints could be sorted into two main categories, the CFPB said: the debt was already paid, does not belong to the consumer in question, or is otherwise incorrect, and that information included in collection notices raised concerns.

While the report contains excerpts from complaints filed by consumers, it does not contain any of the responses that may have been provided by the companies that were the subject of the complaint. The CFPB noted that it sent 750,000 complaints to 3,400 different companies for review and response, but did not choose to include the information that would have been reported back by those companies. In its report to Congress about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the CFPB noted that 82% of the complaints that were submitted in 2021 were closed with an explanation, and 10% were closed with non-monetary relief. Ninety-two percent of all complaints were handled without any issue.

Some of the complaints included in yesterday’s report included public comments from the company that could have been included. And while most did not include public comments from the company, it still seems like an important piece of the puzzle is being left out by not mentioning how the complaints were addressed and handled.

Using information from consumer complaints is perfectly fine, but it needs to be buttressed by the responses that were submitted, too. There is a saying in politics that bad facts make bad laws. What does telling only one side of the story lead to?

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