Vote on HB 515

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After an extensive debate that stretched through and beyond the noon hour – and included lengthy debate against the bill by Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, an attorney who’s in the medical debt collection business and who said he has a conflict of interest on the issue but still planned to debate and vote – the House has passed HB 515, the Idaho Patient Act, which limits billing time frames and attorney fees in medical debt collection cases. The vote was 49-20 in favor of the bill that’s been pushed by eastern Idaho businessman Frank VanderSloot, after the firm for which Zollinger works sued VanderSloot’s company in a dispute over a VanderSloot employee’s small medical debt that had swelled into the thousands.

VanderSloot and his wife, Belinda, then set up a $1 million legal defense fund with their own money to defend hundreds of eastern Idaho residents against ballooning charges from the medical debt collection firm.

Rep. GayAnn DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said with emotion, “If you’ve ever faced the aggressive tactics of medical debt collectors … you will know that this becomes personal. It is personal for Idaho’s patients. It’s personal for many of us.” She recalled her family’s experience with medical debt when she was a child. “My family needed time, they needed transparency,” she said. “They were paying their bills, and they ran out of time.”

Rep. Rod Furniss, R-Rigby, said, “I got more than 300 letters from my area” in favor of the bill, and he said many had tears on them. “You know what, I recognized most of the names in these letters. … All of them said they would have paid the bill had they known about it. These aren’t deadbeat people that are not paying their bills.” He called medical debt collection “an industry that needs to change.”

Zollinger told the House, "This isn't personal. It obviously affects my life ... but I'm debating solely on principle." He said the bill "increases regulation and goes against the principles I hold dear of freedom."

Rep. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg, told the House, "I do think that aggressive and excessive medical debt collection is a real problem." He urged support for the bill.

"You can end up in collections for a lot of different reasons, knowingly or not," said House Assistant Majority Leader Jason Monks, R-Nampa, the bill's lead sponsor. "Remember, the patient doesn't have a choice in this -- they're the one being sued ... but they can't control the costs."

HB 515 still needs passage in the Senate and the governor's signature to become law. Post Register reporter Nathan Brown covered the debate today; you can read his full story here, which notes the all told, the debate ran for two hours, roughly half of which was Zollinger speaking against the bill.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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