A medical debt crisis

A medical debt crisis

An estimated 100 million Americans, including 4 in 10 adults, are saddled with medical debt. It’s a uniquely American dilemma, and a problem that keeps families from buying a home, affording a reliable car or putting money away for their childrens’ college education. A new investigation by Noam Levey of Kaiser Health News, in partnership with National Public Radio, reveals that the problem is much bigger than previously thought, as much of the debt is hidden in credit card balances and loans that people take out from family and friends. 

The picture is bleak. In the past five years, more than half of U.S. adults report they’ve gone into debt because of medical or dental bills, the KFF poll found. A quarter of adults with health care debt owe more than $5,000. And about 1 in 5 with any amount of debt said they don’t expect to ever pay it off. The burden is forcing families to cut spending on food and other essentials. Millions are being driven from their homes or into bankruptcy, the poll found.

Romney unveils Child Tax Credit proposal
Millions of families lost critical support, like the expanded Child Tax Credit, when Congress failed to pass the Build Back Better package last December. On Wednesday, Sen. Mitt Romney introduced a new version of the expanded CTC that would send direct payments of up to $350 per month to qualifying families. The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent have the details off Romney’s proposal:

The plan, which Romney introduced with GOP Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.) and Steve Daines (Mont.), is described by its sponsors as “pro-family, pro-life, and pro-marriage,” while also being more generous than the current CTC. The main features:

  • $4,200 per year for each child up to age 5, and $3,000 for each child between 6 and 17.
  • Benefits would begin during the last four months of pregnancy, providing $700 a month to expectant families.
  • A family must have earned at least $10,000 the prior year to be eligible for its full benefits. Those who earned less than $10,000 could get prorated benefits, which does somewhat perversely mean that the poorer you are at those lowest levels, the less help you’ll receive.
  • While the expanded CTC wasn’t available to couples with incomes over $150,000 a year, Romney’s proposal provides benefits to those with up to $400,000 a year in income.
  • It would be paid for mostly by substituting these benefits for portions of the earned-income tax credit and by eliminating the state and local tax deduction (SALT).

While the proposal improves on current law, it doesn’t provide the CTC to the poorest children and has problematic offsets. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Chuck Marr (via tweet thread) has more on the details of Romney’s bill and its shortcomings. 

Special session begins with anger
The Legislature gaveled in for a special redistricting session on Wednesday, but the GOP-controlled body seems determined to stick with the congressional map that it drew in February instead of complying with a federal judge’s order that the map contain a second Black-majority district. The Illuminator’s Wesley Muller notes that legislative leaders complained about the tight window of the 6-day session and are asking U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick for more time, even as House Speaker Clay Schexnayder gave his members the day off on Thursday. 

Many Republican lawmakers are still hoping for a bailout from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, where defendants in the voter lawsuit have challenged Dick’s ruling. She found the Legislature racially gerrymandered five of the six districts to favor white conservative candidates and specifically ordered lawmakers to redraw them to include two majority-Black districts. 

Why isn’t green energy booming?
Gas prices in the United States hit an all-time high of $5 per gallon this week (slightly less in Louisiana), and the prices families pay to heat and cool their homes is also rising rapidly amid the global energy crisis. With fossil fuel prices rising, The Washington Post’s Evan Halper wonders why it hasn’t led to a corresponding boom in green energy projects. The short answer: Blame Congress for years of failure leading up to this moment.  

Consumers are eager for more wind and solar. Companies looking to go carbon-neutral are facing growing waitlists for access to green energy, and a Pew Research Center poll in late January found that two-thirds of Americans want the United States to prioritize alternative energy over fossil fuel production. But lawmakers have balked for more than a decade at making most of the fundamental economic and policy changes that experts widely agree are crucial to an orderly and accelerated energy transition. The United States does not have a tax on carbon, nor a national cap-and-trade program that would reorient markets toward lowering emissions. The unraveling in Congress of President Biden’s $1.75 trillion Build Back Better plan has added to the head winds that green-energy developers face.

But there are signs of progress In Texas, where Gov. Greg Abobtt infamously misled the public by blaming frozen wind turbines for his state’s power grid failure during a 2021 cold snap, the grid is performing much better this time around because of big contributions from wind and solar power. CNN’s Ella Nilsen explains:

Despite the Texas Republican rhetoric that wind and solar are unreliable, Texas has a massive and growing fleet of renewables. Zero-carbon electricity sources (wind, solar, and nuclear) powered about 38% of the state’s power in 2021, rivaling natural gas at 42%. … Not only have renewables helped keep the power on during a scorching and early heatwave, they have also helped keep costs low. Prices for natural gas and coal are high amid a worldwide energy crunch, but renewables — powered by the wind and sun — have no fuel cost. 

Number of the Day
63% – Percentage of people with medical debt who cut spending on food, clothing and other basic necessities as a result (Source: Kaiser Family Foundation survey)