Measure to cap interest rates for medical debt will likely be put on November ballot

A proposed ballot measure to protect families and individuals in Arizona from debt collectors by putting a cap on interest rates for medical debt received nearly half a million signatures, Healthcare Rising Arizona, the measure’s authors, announced on Thursday. The measure surpassed the minimum 237,645 signatures needed to put the issue to voters on the November ballot.

 

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Healthcare Rising Arizona says the measure, known as the Predatory Debt Collection Protection Act, would “limit the outrageous interest rates that trap families in an unending cycle of medical debt.” The measure would also protect more Arizonans’ assets, like their homes and vehicles, from debt collectors looking to collect on medical debt, as well as allow Arizonans to keep more money in their bank accounts at one time.

According to research conducted by the Grand Canyon Institute, 30% of Arizonans currently have debt in collections, which is slightly higher than the national average. Of this 30%, 16% of Arizonans have medical debt in collections, with 22% of this debt represented in communities of color, compared to 13% of this debt represented in majority white communities. 

The research also notes that many medical debts are currently unreported or recorded as credit card debt, meaning that the true number of Arizonans struggling with medical debt is likely much higher than 16%.

The ballot measure would increase the amount of equity in a home that is protected from being seized by debt collectors from $250,000 to $400,000, and would raise vehicle protection from $6,000 to $15,000. The act would also limit the interest rate on medical debt to 3%, and increase the amount of money protected from garnishment in a bank account from $300 to $5,000. It would also allow Arizonans to keep 90% or more of their paychecks.

Kelly Hall, Executive Director of the Fairness Project, a national advocacy organization for economic and social justice and a supporting organization of the act, released a statement in response to the ballot measure receiving enough signatures to be placed on the November ballot. 

“No one should have to declare bankruptcy, be harassed by debt collectors, or lose their home because they sought treatment for an illness or injury. This is a matter of basic economic justice. If passed, this ballot measure will provide direct relief to Arizona families whose lives are upended by medical debt. It will also help to ensure people don’t avoid getting care they need out of fear of going into debt—something that is essential while we are still in a pandemic.”

Organizations in support of the measure include the Southwest Fair Housing Council, Phoenix Workers Alliance, Arizona Wins, and the Arizona Public Health Association, as well as numerous legislators including Rep. Amish Shah (D–Phoenix) and Sen. Raquel Teran (D–Phoenix).

Organizations who oppose the measure include the Arizona Bankers Association, the Arizona Retailers Association, the NAACP Phoenix Branch, and the Greater Phoenix Chamber. On Wednesday, the Greater Phoenix Chamber released their opposing statement to the act.

“The Chamber is opposed to a new initiative that would make it harder for lenders to collect on debts,” said Greater Phoenix Chamber President & CEO Todd Sanders in the statement. “This could make it more difficult for people in Arizona to get access to credit and amplify the current housing affordability issue, making it more difficult for people to buy homes and start businesses in Arizona. The passage of this initiative would be a disaster for Arizona and should be avoided at all costs.”

Since the measure has acquired the necessary amount of signatures, the signatures must now be validated by the Arizona Secretary of State and various County Recorders who will certify whether the measure has qualified for the November ballot.