June 17, 2020

Senator Warren Introduces the Financial Relief for Civilians Treated at Military Hospitals Act

Legislation would prohibit the federal government from collecting medical debt from civilians that receive emergency medical care at military hospitals

Bill Text (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee and Ranking Member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection, introduced the Financial Relief for Civilians Treated at Military Hospitals Act, legislation that would would cancel all pre-existing medical debt incurred by civilians at military hospitals and prohibit military hospitals from charging civilians in the future that receive emergency treatment at the facilities through no fault of their own. 

The Department of Defense (DoD) operates a nationwide network of fifty-one hospitals and medical centers, where civilians can receive treatment if they have a severe injury in an underserved area, or when a military hospital is uniquely equipped to handle treatment. Ultimately, treating civilian patients benefits military surgeons and doctors by helping them maintain their medical proficiency. 

However, civilians who receive emergency medical care at military facilities typically do not have a choice in whether they are sent to military hospitals. If the military hospital is not covered by a civilians’ insurance plan, or if the civilian is uninsured or has high-copays or deductibles, civilians can find themselves significantly behind on medical payments. DoD regulations require military hospitals to take "prompt and aggressive action" to collect this debt. If the debt becomes more than 180 days past due, DoD must transfer the debt to the Treasury, which can use much more aggressive tactics, including withholding a patient's wages or tax refunds, or up to 15 percent of their Social Security benefits. The garnishment of these payments makes a material difference for low-income patients struggling to make ends meet.

“No American should ever be financially crippled by unexpected medical emergencies, especially during this public health emergency,” Senator Warren said. “My bill would ensure that civilians receiving necessary medical care at military hospitals won’t be loaded up with high costs they don’t deserve.”

The legislation follows a letter Senator Warren sent in January 2020 to the DoD and the Treasury Department requesting information about the collection of military hospital debt from low-income, civilian patients.