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Majority of Americans favor forgiving medical debt, AP-NORC poll finds

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Majority of Americans favor forgiving medical debt, AP-NORC poll finds
News

News

Majority of Americans favor forgiving medical debt, AP-NORC poll finds

2024-06-18 12:02 Last Updated At:12:10

NEW YORK (AP) — Janille Williams wants to buy a house someday — but first, he has to pay down tens of thousands of dollars in medical debt.

“I was hospitalized for a blood infection for three months more than ten years ago, and the bill was for more than $300,000,” said Williams, 38, a Fairbanks, Alaska, resident who works as a retail sales manager for AT&T. “I was in the middle of changing jobs, the only time in my life I haven’t had health insurance.”

When the bill went to collections, the debt was eventually lowered to about $50,000, he said, an amount that was still not feasible for him to pay.

Medical debt forgiveness, a priority for some lawmakers and advocates, would make a substantial difference to Williams' credit report and stop the calls from collections agencies.

“They don’t give you a choice in the hospital. ‘If you leave, you’ll die,' they told me. I didn't feel like dying," Williams said. “I don’t think anyone should have to go into financial ruin to live.”

Many Americans agree, according to a new poll from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. According to the survey, about half of Americans say it’s extremely or very important for the U.S. government to provide debt relief for those who have yet to pay off medical treatments.

Especially since the pandemic, an increasing number of cities and states — including Connecticut, New York City, New Orleans and Chicago — are implementing their own versions of medical debt forgiveness. The Biden administration recently announced a proposed rule that would wipe consumer medical debt off most credit reports.

The poll found that support for medical debt forgiveness is particularly high in cases where a patient experienced health care fraud. About two-thirds of U.S. adults support medical debt forgiveness if the individual has, for example, been wrongfully billed for services. But majorities of Americans favor relief in other situations, too, such as when the patient has made on-time payments toward an existing loan for 20 years, has large amounts of medical debt compared to their income, or is experiencing financial hardship.

About 6 in 10 people with debt from medical bills favor medical debt forgiveness if the person has large amounts of debt compared to their income, compared to about half of people without medical debt.

Denise Early, 65, an Independent in Omaha, Nebraska, who favors medical debt forgiveness, said she experienced an injury on the job that eventually led to several surgeries she believes should have been covered by workers' compensation claims, but were not. The costs eventually pushed her to declare bankruptcy.

Early worked as a custodian at a post office, she said, when she suffered an accident. After initial hospital visits and treatments were ineffective, Early eventually received knee and ankle surgeries to address ongoing difficulties.

“I still get bills every day,” Early said. “Forgiveness would help clear a lot of my debts.”

Early said she also currently has more than $100,000 in unpaid student loan debt.

Although reducing student loan debt has been a focus for President Joe Biden, the poll found that Americans are more likely to say medical debt relief should be a government priority. About 4 in 10 U.S. adults said that it’s extremely or very important for the U.S. government to provide student debt relief.

Lesley Turner, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Chicago, who helped craft the poll, said the survey captures a divide regarding who deserves debt relief.

“If you need to go to the emergency room because of a major health issue, that is much less of an active choice than the decision to go to college," she said. “Even though, given today's economy, going to college is in many ways a very important if not essential route to economic mobility and stability.”

Overall, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents are all similarly likely to support clearing medical debt if the person experienced fraud, the AP-NORC poll found, though Democrats are more supportive than Republicans in cases where the person is experiencing financial hardship or if the person has large amounts of medical debt compared to their income.

Ed Kane, a 71-year-old Republican from Chicopee, Massachusetts, believes medical debt forgiveness should not be an option. He's survived multiple medical emergencies — including heart attacks and cancer — and credits his employer health insurance for providing good coverage that kept him out of debt.

“We are starting to become a nation that gives away everything. And I’m tired of it,” Kane said. “I’ve worked hard all my life. I worked two jobs. I had great medical insurance because of it. Everybody can do it; there’s no reason that people can’t reach a higher level than they do.”

Medical debt forgiveness is also a higher priority for Democrats. According to the poll, about two-thirds of Democrats say it's extremely or very important for the U.S. government to provide medical debt relief, compared to about 3 in 10 Republicans.

Matt Haskell, 24, of Englewood, Florida, a Republican who said he supports debt forgiveness, also has firsthand experience with high medical bills for an unexpected emergency.

Haskell said he was working on cars, some of which were rusty, at the time of his accident. One afternoon, what seemed like a piece of dust got into his eye.

“It turned out it was a metal flake embedded in my cornea,” Haskell said. “I didn’t know for five days. I went to the ER when I could no longer open my eyes.”

From the visit, Haskell said he incurred more than $4,500 in debt.

“I generally think it’s never anybody’s fault when they have a medical condition,” he said. “If they get cancer or a tumor or have an episode from undiagnosed diabetes — it’s not someone’s fault if they develop something and now they’re thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.”

Associated Press writer Linley Sanders in Washington contributed to this report.

The poll of 1,309 adults was conducted May 16-21, 2024, using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

The Associated Press receives support from Charles Schwab Foundation for educational and explanatory reporting to improve financial literacy. The independent foundation is separate from Charles Schwab and Co. Inc. The AP is solely responsible for its journalism.

FILE - A shadow is seen across a Medicare card on June 10, 2024, in Portland, Ore. Majorities of Americans favor forgiving all or some of an individual's medical debt if the person is facing hardships, according to a new poll from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

FILE - A shadow is seen across a Medicare card on June 10, 2024, in Portland, Ore. Majorities of Americans favor forgiving all or some of an individual's medical debt if the person is facing hardships, according to a new poll from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden's campaign is insisting anew that he is not stepping aside as he faces the stark reality that many Democrats at the highest levels want him to bow out of the 2024 election to make way for a new nominee and try to prevent widespread party losses in November.

Isolated as he battles a COVID-19 infection at his beach house in Delaware, Biden’s already small circle of confidants before his debate fumbling has shrunk further. The president, who has insisted he can beat Republican Donald Trump, is with family and relying on a few longtime aides as he weighs whether to bow to the mounting pressure to drop out.

Biden campaign chair Jen O'Malley Dillion acknowledged “slippage” in support for the president, but insisted he is “absolutely” remaining in the race and that the campaign sees “multiple paths" to beating Trump.

“We have a lot of work to do to reassure the American people that yes he’s old, but he can win," she told MSNBC's “Morning Joe” show. But she said voters concerned about Biden's fitness to lead aren't switching to vote for Trump. “They have questions, but they are staying with Joe Biden," she said.

At the same time, the Democratic National Committee ’s rulemaking arm opened its meeting Friday, pressing ahead with plans for a virtual roll call before Aug. 7 to nominate the presidential pick, ahead of the party’s convention later in the month in Chicago.

“President Biden deserves the respect to have important family conversations with members of the caucus and colleagues in the House and Senate and Democratic leadership and not be battling leaks and press statements,” Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, Biden’s closest friend in Congress and his campaign co-chair, told The Associated Press.

It's a pivotal few days for the president and his party: Trump has wrapped up an enthusiastic Republican National Convention in Milwaukee. And Democrats, racing time, are considering the extraordinary possibility of Biden stepping aside for a new presidential nominee before their own convention.

Amid the turmoil, a majority of Democrats think Vice President Kamala Harris would make a good president herself.

A poll from the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that about 6 in 10 Democrats believe Harris would do a good job in the top slot. About 2 in 10 Democrats don’t believe she would, and another 2 in 10 say they don’t know enough to say.

Democrats at the highest levels have been making a critical push for Biden to rethink his election bid, with former President Barack Obama expressing concerns to allies and Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi privately telling Biden the party could lose the ability to seize control of the House if he doesn’t step away from the 2024 race.

Late Thursday, Montana Sen. Jon Tester became the second Democrat in the chamber — and now among two dozen in Congress — calling on him to bow out, saying, “Biden should not seek reelection to another term.”

And Friday, four more House Democrats — Reps. Jared Huffman, Mark Veasey, Chuy Garcia and Mark Pocan — representing a wide swath of the caucus called on Biden to step aside.

“It is now time for you to pass the torch to a new generation of Democratic leaders," they wrote. "We must defeat Donald Trump to save our democracy.”

And Rep. Sean Casten of Illinois wrote in an op-ed Friday that with “a heavy heart and much personal reflection” he, too, was calling on Biden to “pass the torch to a new generation.”

That brings to more than two dozen the Democrats in Congress urging Biden to step out of the race.

Campaign officials said Biden was even more committed to staying in the race even as the calls for him to go mounted. And senior West Wing aides have had no internal discussions or conversations with the president about Biden dropping out.

On Friday, Biden picked up a key endorsement from the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. CHC BOLD PAC said the Biden administration has shown “unwavering commitment” to Latinos and “the stakes couldn’t be higher” in this election. “President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have delivered for the Latino community,” the group said.

But there is also time to reconsider. Biden has been told the campaign is having trouble raising money, and key Democrats see an opportunity as he is away from the campaign for a few days to encourage his exit. Among his Cabinet, some are resigned to the likelihood of him losing in November.

The reporting in this story is based in part on information from almost a dozen people who insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive private deliberations. The Washington Post first reported on Obama’s involvement.

Biden, 81, tested positive for COVID-19 while traveling in Las Vegas earlier this week and is experiencing “mild symptoms” including “general malaise” from the infection, the White House said.

The president himself, in a radio interview taped just before he tested positive, dismissed the idea it was too late for him to recover politically, telling Univision’s Luis Sandoval that many people don’t focus on the November election until September.

“All the talk about who’s leading and where and how, is kind of, you know — everything so far between Trump and me has been basically even,” he said in an excerpt of the interview released Thursday.

But in Congress, Democratic lawmakers have begun having private conversations about lining up behind Harris as an alternative. One lawmaker said Biden’s own advisers are unable to reach a unanimous recommendation about what he should do. More in Congress are considering joining the others who have called for Biden to drop out. Some prefer an open process for choosing a new presidential nominee.

“It’s clear the issue won’t go away,” said Vermont Sen. Peter Welch, the other Senate Democrat who has publicly said Biden should exit the race. Welch said the current state of party angst — with lawmakers panicking and donors revolting — was “not sustainable.”

However, influential Democrats including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries are sending signals of strong concern.

To be sure, many want Biden to stay in the race. But among Democrats nationwide, nearly two-thirds say Biden should step aside and let his party nominate a different candidate, according to an AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll. That sharply undercuts Biden's post-debate claim that “average Democrats” are still with him.

Associated Press writers Joey Cappelletti in Lansing, Michigan, Ellen Knickmeyer in Aspen, Colorado, Steve Peoples in Milwaukee, and Josh Boak, Will Weissert, Mary Clare Jalonick, Seung Min Kim and Stephen Groves in Washington contributed to this report.

President Joe Biden takes the stage to speak at the 115th NAACP National Convention in Las Vegas, Tuesday, July 16, 2024. Biden tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden takes the stage to speak at the 115th NAACP National Convention in Las Vegas, Tuesday, July 16, 2024. Biden tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden walks to his car after stepping off of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. Biden is returning to his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del., to self-isolate after testing positive for COVID-19. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden walks to his car after stepping off of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. Biden is returning to his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del., to self-isolate after testing positive for COVID-19. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. Biden is returning to his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del., to self-isolate after testing positive for COVID-19. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. Biden is returning to his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del., to self-isolate after testing positive for COVID-19. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Supporters cheer during the Republican National Convention Thursday, July 18, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Supporters cheer during the Republican National Convention Thursday, July 18, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

FILE - Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during an event in Washington, June 23, 2023. Democrats at the highest levels are making a critical push for President Joe Biden to reconsider his election bid. Speaker Emerita Pelosi privately warned Biden that Democrats could lose the ability to seize control in the House if he didn’t step away from the race and that polls showed he likely can’t defeat Donald Trump. And former President Barack Obama has privately expressed concerns to Democrats about Biden’s candidacy. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

FILE - Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during an event in Washington, June 23, 2023. Democrats at the highest levels are making a critical push for President Joe Biden to reconsider his election bid. Speaker Emerita Pelosi privately warned Biden that Democrats could lose the ability to seize control in the House if he didn’t step away from the race and that polls showed he likely can’t defeat Donald Trump. And former President Barack Obama has privately expressed concerns to Democrats about Biden’s candidacy. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

FILE - Chairman Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 2, 2023. Jittery Democrats seeking to hold onto Senate seats are watching the drama over Biden nervously. Even candidates who seem to be in a strong position are walking a fine line between loyalty to the president and their own political survival. Tester has offered little public support for the president since the debate. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

FILE - Chairman Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 2, 2023. Jittery Democrats seeking to hold onto Senate seats are watching the drama over Biden nervously. Even candidates who seem to be in a strong position are walking a fine line between loyalty to the president and their own political survival. Tester has offered little public support for the president since the debate. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

FILE - Former President Barack Obama speaks in Athens, Greece, June 21, 2023. Democrats at the highest levels are making a critical push for President Joe Biden to reconsider his election bid. Obama has privately expressed concerns to Democrats about Biden’s candidacy. And Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi privately warned Biden that Democrats could lose the ability to seize control in the House if he didn’t step away from the race and that polls showed he likely can’t defeat Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File)

FILE - Former President Barack Obama speaks in Athens, Greece, June 21, 2023. Democrats at the highest levels are making a critical push for President Joe Biden to reconsider his election bid. Obama has privately expressed concerns to Democrats about Biden’s candidacy. And Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi privately warned Biden that Democrats could lose the ability to seize control in the House if he didn’t step away from the race and that polls showed he likely can’t defeat Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File)

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks at the 115th NAACP National Convention in Las Vegas, July 16, 2024. Democrats at the highest levels are making a critical push for Biden to reconsider his election bid. Former President Barack Obama has privately expressed concerns to Democrats about Biden's candidacy. And Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi privately warned Biden that Democrats could lose the ability to seize control in the House if he didn't step away from the race. Biden says he's not dropping out believing he's best to beat the Republican Trump. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks at the 115th NAACP National Convention in Las Vegas, July 16, 2024. Democrats at the highest levels are making a critical push for Biden to reconsider his election bid. Former President Barack Obama has privately expressed concerns to Democrats about Biden's candidacy. And Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi privately warned Biden that Democrats could lose the ability to seize control in the House if he didn't step away from the race. Biden says he's not dropping out believing he's best to beat the Republican Trump. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

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