March 16, 2023

Senator Warren Asks DoD for Action to Reduce Servicemember Medical Debt

Servicemembers Face Unique Medical Debt Challenges and Debt Presents Readiness Concerns “It is unclear whether and to what extent DoD has acted on (CFPB) recommendations to protect servicemembers and their families.”

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Personnel, sent a letter to Department of Defense (DoD) Secretary Lloyd Austin, requesting information from DoD about its efforts to implement recommendations from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) Office of Servicemember Affairs’ Annual Report to address servicemember medical debt.

Inaccurate medical bills or debt can affect military readiness by jeopardizing job security or promotion eligibility for our servicemembers. Outstanding medical debts can also affect enlistment at a time when military services are struggling to meet their recruiting goals.  

“The CFPB has called for more robust data collection to better understand the scope of medical debt challenges faced by servicemembers and recruits, and recommends that private care providers and third-party billing agencies have adequate systems to submit and process TRICARE claims to ensure servicemembers are not billed incorrectly,” wrote Senator Warren.

Medical debt continues to be a pressing issue for millions of Americans with roughly 100 million people owing medical debt. In June of last year, the CFPB released a report to address financial concerns confronting servicemembers and their families. In 2021, 54 percent of servicemembers’ medical debt collection complaints were about attempts to collect debt that was not owed. The report outlined specific challenges servicemembers and their families face despite having health insurance through TRICARE, including that active duty servicemembers may incur medical debt due to billing problems between private medical providers and TRICARE. 

“The CFPB also found that it is especially challenging for servicemembers to track medical billing notices and resolve any mistakes due to how often they need to relocate as part of their military service,” wrote Senator Warren. “Servicemembers are subject to frequent moves because of permanent change of station, but this can set off a sequence of undelivered medical bills and missed payments that can result in damaged credit scores.”

“The CFPB report further revealed that servicemembers “feared the irreparable harm that negative credit reporting of incorrect medical bills could cause to their careers,” wrote Senator Warren.

Senator Warren is requesting a response no later than March 30 in order to better understand what steps DoD has taken since the report was released.

Senator Warren has long fought to ensure affordable access to health care for all and that the government’s aggressive debt collection practices don’t unfairly target patients:

  • On March 15, chairing her first hearing of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) highlighted the importance of putting pressure on DoD to exercise its authority to waive civilian medical debt.
  • In March 2023, Senator Warren and Representative Castro (D-Texas) sent a letter to the Department of Defense’s Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs Dr. Lester Martinez-Lopez and Director of the Defense Health Agency Lieutenant General Telita Crosland, urging the agency to waive civilian patients’ medical debts incurred at military treatment facilities, using statutory authority established by the lawmakers’ provision in the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
  • In December 2022, Senator Warren and Representative Castro introduced the Financial Relief for Civilians Treated at Military Hospitals Act, legislation that would ensure that Military Treatment Facilities (MTFs) run by the Department of Defense (DoD) can continue to enhance military readiness without racking up huge bills for civilians receiving emergency medical care.
  • In August 2022, Senator Warren and Rep. Castro sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin raising concerns that the Department of Defense (DoD) may be misleading or misinforming civilians about debt they incur when they receive emergency medical care at military health care facilities, and calling for improved billing practices to protect patients.
  • In March 2022, Senator Warren joined Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in sending a letter to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Rohit Chopra highlighting the growing medical debt burden faced by consumers. Specifically, the letter urges the CFPB to use its authority to address the growing medical debt burden faced by U.S. consumers, and establish an ombudsman position for consumer medical debt.
  • The FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included Senator Warren's provision, based on the Financial Relief for Civilians Treated at Military Hospitals Act, to give DoD the authority to waive medical debt when the civilian is unable to pay the costs of the care provided and the care enhances the knowledge, skills, and abilities of military healthcare providers.
  • Senator Warren originally introduced the Financial Relief for Civilians Treated at Military Hospitals Act in June 2020.
  • In January 2020, Senator Warren sent a letter to DoD and the Treasury Department requesting information about the collection of military hospital debt from low-income, civilian patients.