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HR2976: Deferment for Active Cancer Treatment Act of 2017

A no-brainer bill about student loans for young adult cancer patients that I spent a day advocating for. You can help - read to the end!
PUBLISHED June 26, 2018
Justin Birckbichler is a fourth grade teacher, testicular cancer survivor and the founder of aBallsySenseofTumor.com. From being diagnosed in November 2016 at the age of 25, to finishing chemo in January 2017, to being cleared in remission in March, he has been passionate about sharing his story to spread awareness and promote open conversation about men's health. Connect with him on Instagram @aballsysenseoftumor, on Twitter @absotTC, on Facebook or via email justin@aballsysenseoftumor.com.

On June 21, 2017, I spent the day in surgery, getting my chemo port removed (in an elaborate imagining of it as a sequel to the Avengers).

This year, I spent the same day quite differently - I was advocating for HR2976 on Capitol Hill, as part of the first Young Adult Cancer Action Day (YACAD) organized by Critical Mass.

The bill, also known as the "Deferment for Active Cancer Treatment Act of 2017" is relatively simple. It asks that student loans payments and interest are deferred during active cancer treatment. While one can defer loans for a short time, it is subject to an arbitrary approval process by the lender and interest is still accrued, even while payments are not required.

No one expects to get cancer, especially not young adults. While there are 70,000 new young adult cancer diagnoses every year, this comes at the time in their life when they are supposed to be building a career, net worth and a new life. I was diagnosed with testicular cancer at 25 and I definitely know how it feels to have everything come to a grinding halt.

Many young adults already have student loans to repay. Having to pay these, on top of medical bills, can be downright impossible, especially on short-term disability income. Often, a patient has to make an incredibly hard choice: pay the medical bills and accumulate more debt on student loans or make payments on the loans and skimp on cancer care. No matter what, it can have long-lasting repercussions on credit and the future.

To be completely honest, I do not have student loans to contend with, thanks to a college fund my parents and grandparents set up for me when I was born. While it was not the most exciting thing to hear, "We put more money in your college fund for your birthday" while I was growing up, I definitely was appreciative of it once I graduated high school.

Due to this fact, I felt like I didn't really have a horse in the race. However, I thought back to how stressful it was trying to keep up with medical bills during chemotherapy. One smaller bill slipped through the cracks (largely due to chemo brain) and I ended up being sent to a collections agency. It was easy to get that straightened out, but I'm sure it's not that easy with student loan payments.

I learned of this firsthand from my fellow advocates as we met with various members of the US House of Representatives and their aides. One thyroid cancer survivor racked up $500 of interest during a deferment period, which was due upon resuming payments. Another bladder cancer patient, who is still in active treatment, is on short-term medical leave. He has a monthly income of about $700, and loan payments of roughly $500. This only leaves him a paltry sum of about $200 for living expenses and his medical bills.

The various people we met with were somewhat shocked that this wasn't already a law. Many of them said that it seemed like a "no brainer." It's not asking to forgive the loans; it's just "pressing pause." After the patient has completed active treatment, the bill gives a six-month grace period before the original terms of the original loan resumes. There's no downside to anyone in this situation, and many reps were happy to take a closer look and potentially become a co-sponsor.

As of this writing, there are 60 bipartisan co-sponsors of HR2976, which doesn't even include the new people we spoke to on YACAD.

This is where you can help. By visiting this link and entering your name, email address, and physical address, a letter will be generated to your US Representative. All you have to do is press "Send" and it does the rest for you. I just did it and it literally took longer to type this explanation than to actually do it.

There's no time like the present - go do it right now! The goal is to get this signed into law by the end of the year, since the bill's original sponsor is retiring, and the process will reset if it's not passed by then.
While you may not be a young adult cancer patient or have student loans, this is a commonsense measure that can help improve the lives of others.

 

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