Deadline Looms For Arizona Medical Debt Ballot Measure

Friday is the deadline for a group seeking to increase the protections that consumers can use to shield assets from garnishments to pay medical debts while also lowering the judgment interest rate on medical debt to get enough signatures to add the measure to the November ballot in Arizona.

The group — Healthcare Rising Arizona — needs 237,645 valid signatures by July 8 to get their initiative added to November’s ballot — which would put the proposal in the hands of the voters and not politicians. Such a move would make enactment of the initiative a slam dunk, fear many in the accounts receivable management industry.

If enacted, the measure would ban garnishing the wages of anyone earning $50,000 a year or less, with annual increases that would raise the limit to $56,000 by 2025. This represents a 272% increase from current levels. The new law would also eliminate as many as 70% of existing garnishments and raise the exemption threshold in bank accounts to $5,000 from $300. The law would also establish an interest rate cap of 3% on unpaid medical debts.

If enacted, the initiative may move to other states like Arizona, 15 of which allow voters to initiate ballot measures, provided they obtain enough votes. The industry could see similar efforts in states like California, Colorado, and Oklahoma.

The Arizona Creditors Bar Association, along with other industry groups, are fighting against the initiative. The Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce is also asking individuals not to sign the petition.

“If a lender cannot collect outstanding debts from a person earning $50,000 why would they lend to them?” said Michael Guymon, the President and Chief Executive of the Chamber. “This will negatively impact business owners, lenders and the overall financial ecosystem in Arizona.”

This is the second time that Healthcare Rising Arizona has tried such an initiative, according to a published report. Previously, opponents successfully sued to have signatures invalidated because the language in the petition statement was misleading.

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