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Remarks by HHS Secretary Becerra at the White House Medical Debt Event with Vice President Harris

On Monday, April 11, 2022, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra joined Vice President Kamala Harris and other Administration officials at the White House to deliver remarks at an event focused on new actions the Biden-Harris Administration is taking to lessen medical debt and protect consumers. HHS released the following letter to grantees about the efforts that the Department will initiate. The event is part of the Administration’s work to reduce burdens and barriers imposed by medical debt advanced in its Executive Order 14070 on Continuing to Strengthen Americans’ Access to Affordable, Quality Health Coverage.

Below are Secretary Becerra’s remarks, as prepared for delivery.

Good afternoon. Let me first thank President Biden and Vice President Harris for their extraordinary leadership.

I also want to thank my fellow speakers:

  • Jewel Bronaugh, Deputy Secretary, Department of Agriculture
  • Rohit Chopra, Director, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)
  • Donald Remy, Deputy Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
  • Shalanda Young, Director, Office of Management and Budget (OMB)

As well as all of the advocates and public servants in the audience.

We’re here today because of one simple fact: Too many families across the country are saddled with crushing medical debt.

This debt often forces families into making impossible choices: between paying off the debt and purchasing life-saving medications or putting food on the table and paying the rent.

No family should have to make that choice.

I’m no stranger to this issue. From my days in Congress to my tenure as California attorney general, I’ve fought to protect patients from high medical costs. And I’m proud to continue this work as a member of the Biden-Harris Administration.

This administration is committed to making health care more affordable and accessible to Americans, including by advancing policies that help reduce the burden of medical debt on households.

A study using the Survey of Income and Program Participation found that nearly 1 in 5 households hold significant medical debt. In fact, American households hold an estimated $90- 200 billion in medical debt.

Medical debt is both the most common type of debt on credit reports, and the largest source of debt in collections—surpassing debt in collections from credit cards, utilities, auto loans, and other sources, combined.

That last part bears repeating: Medical debt surpasses collections from credit cards, utilities, auto loans, and other sources, combined.

And this burden is not shouldered equally. Americans with lower incomes, poorer health, and from communities of color have higher rates of medical debt. More than two-thirds of debtors cite medical issues as contributing to their bankruptcy.

This is a full-blown crisis in America. And HHS isn’t waiting to act.

We know best way to prevent medical debt is to get more Americans covered by health insurance. And today, because of the leadership of President Biden and Vice President Harris, more Americans have health insurance through Medicaid and the Marketplace than ever before.

That includes a record-breaking 14.5 million Americans who secured health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act since November 1st.

We’re also implementing the No Surprises Act to protect more Americans from surprise medical bills that often contribute to this crushing debt.

And we’re not done. At the direction of President Biden and Vice President Harris, we’re going to work with our partners to examine even more ways to address medical debt and help lift this weight off millions of families.

This is not just about health care. It’s about economy security. It’s about peace of mind.

I’m proud to serve an administration committed to tackling this issue and giving Americans the peace of mind they deserve.

Thank you.

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Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other news materials are available at https://www.hhs.gov/news.
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