‘Fairer’ debt championed by Minnesota pastors, union leaders

Medical debt is less likely to be a big gut punch to families under a new set of rules the Minnesota House is expected to pass on Monday.

Religious leaders joined forces with Minnesota unions to advocate for the changes.

They emphasized they do believe people need to pay their debts, but they’re supporting five changes to make sure medical debt, especially, doesn’t ruin a person’s financial situation and also saddle their loved ones with the same debt.

The sermon at the Minnesota Capitol on Monday focused on finances.

"We know that Jesus considered debtors among the afflicted because he taught his followers to pray and to ask God for forgiveness of our debts, as we forgive those debtors," said Rev. James Alberts II of Higher Ground Church in St. Cloud.

Forgiving debts is not what they’re asking legislators to do.

But the so-called Debt Fairness bills would protect the last $4,000 in your bank account from debt collectors and reduce the amount lenders can garnish from your wages, if your income meets a certain threshold.

They’d require hospitals to care for patients even if they have medical debt, keep any of that debt off your credit score.

Supporters like Barb Anderson say nobody chooses to get sick.

Her son, Jude, is eight years cancer-free now, but when he got a leukemia diagnosis in 2013, the bills really piled up for his family.

"Every day, it was going to the mailbox and there was new bills," said the mother from St. Anthony Village. Only a GoFundMe account kept them out of crippling debt.

Widows and widowers are often in the same position in Minnesota, but the Debt Fairness bills would wipe the slate clean for surviving spouses like Walt Myers, who received a $135,000 bill for his late wife’s medical care.

"I was always so terrified over how I would ever pay this bill out of pocket," Myers said. "Would I be in debt for the rest of my life?"

Four of the five elements are currently in the House commerce bill. The fifth is in a different bill. Both of them would still need to get through the Senate before the governor could sign them.