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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

CFPB examines high-cost financings that cover medical expenses

Federal Issues CFPB Credit Cards Consumer Finance Medical Debt Interest Rate

Federal Issues

On May 4, the CFPB released a report examining high-cost alternative financing products targeted to patients as a way to cover medical expenses. Products offered by a growing number of financial institutions and fintech companies include medical credit cards and installment loans, which typically carry significantly higher interest rates than those associated with traditional consumer credit cards (26.99 percent annual percentage rate as compared to 16 percent), the Bureau found, adding that these products also often have deferred interest plans which can create significant financial burdens for patients. The report found that between 2018 and 2020, consumers used alternative financing products to pay for nearly $23 billion in healthcare expenses and paid $1 billion in deferred interest. The report further found that companies are primarily marketing their products directly to healthcare providers with promised incentives. While the companies service the credit cards and loans, the Bureau explained that the healthcare providers are responsible for offering the products to patients and disclosing terms and risks. Many of these healthcare providers are unable to adequately explain complex terms, such as deferred interest plans, leaving patients facing ballooned deferred interests and lawsuits, the Bureau warned. According to the Bureau’s announcement, “financing medical debt on a credit card may increase patients’ exposure to extraordinary credit actions that healthcare providers would typically not pursue,” as “there can be a greater incentive for creditors to pursue lawsuits because unlike many healthcare providers, creditors can pursue a debt’s principal plus interest and fees.”