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Medical Debt

Arizona Using Covid Relief Funds To Cancel Medical Debt

Arizona has just launched a partnership with the nonprofit RIP Medical Debt to acquire as much as $2 billion in medical debt— and forgive all of it. The program, announced on Monday by Gov. Katie Hobbs, will benefit up to 1 million Arizona residents living below 400% of the federal poverty line or owe medical debts totaling more than 5% of their annual income. At $30 million in funding — out of pandemic relief funds allocated to Arizona under the American Rescue Plan Act — it’s the biggest example yet of a state or local government using federal dollars for massive debt cancellation.

Why Exposing Evils Of Medical Debt Doesn’t Fix The Problem

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont proposed on February 2 to purchase and forgive roughly $2 billion in medical debt owed by state residents. Along with similar proposals in other jurisdictions, the plan offers desperately needed relief from stress and fear to thousands of people who are struggling to pay their current outstanding medical bills. Unfortunately, these programs will do nothing to prevent millions more Americans from falling into the country’s healthcare financial meat grinder. Meanwhile, three major credit reporting agencies have decided to expunge paid-off medical debts and outstanding debt less than $500 from credit reports, and provide people a year’s grace period before adding new medical debt to credit reports.

America’s Very Broken Healthcare System

The United States is the only industrialized nation in the world without universal healthcare. Instead, Americans are forced to rely on a mixture of profit and nonprofit private and public healthcare insurers and providers. The United States federal government provides healthcare coverage through Medicare to individuals ages 65 years and older, and to some individuals with disabilities, military veterans, and children through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Around 26 million Americans, about 8% of the population, including just under 2% of children, have no health insurance coverage at all. Low-income families are more likely to be uninsured, with the high cost of health insurance cited as the main factor as to why people remain uninsured in the US. The lack of coverage significantly worsens Americans’ access to health care and many face unaffordable out-of-pocket medical bills if they do seek care.

A Measure To Crack Down On Predatory Medical Debt Collection

Liz Gorski was a 15-year-old in Prescott, Arizona, when she was in a car accident that changed her life, and trapped her in a cycle of medical debt. After being in a coma for five days, Gorski woke up in the hospital to a new reality. She needed surgeries, physical therapy, and extensive medical care, a bill that ended up being over a million dollars, Gorski recalled. Insurance covered some of these initial expenses, and a lawsuit several years later covered more of the bill. But she still had medical debt sent to collections. Gorski’s health problems have required lifelong treatment, as she continues to deal with the aftermath of the crash, and the medical bills keep piling up. “Every single time I go, I have a copay and then I have some part of the bill billed to me, and every month I’m paying on all of these bills just to make sure that they don’t go to collections, but sometimes they do because it’s just too many at one time,” she told More Perfect Union.Liz Gorski was a 15-year-old in Prescott, Arizona, when she was in a car accident that changed her life, and trapped her in a cycle of medical debt. After being in a coma for five days, Gorski woke up in the hospital to a new reality. She needed surgeries, physical therapy, and extensive medical care, a bill that ended up being over a million dollars, Gorski recalled. Insurance covered some of these initial expenses, and a lawsuit several years later covered more of the bill. But she still had medical debt sent to collections. Gorski’s health problems have required lifelong treatment, as she continues to deal with the aftermath of the crash, and the medical bills keep piling up. “Every single time I go, I have a copay and then I have some part of the bill billed to me, and every month I’m paying on all of these bills just to make sure that they don’t go to collections, but sometimes they do because it’s just too many at one time,” she told More Perfect Union.

100 Million People In The US Are Saddled With Health Care Debt

Elizabeth Woodruff drained her retirement account and took on three jobs after she and her husband were sued for nearly $10,000 by the New York hospital where his infected leg was amputated. Ariane Buck, a young father in Arizona who sells health insurance, couldn’t make an appointment with his doctor for a dangerous intestinal infection because the office said he had outstanding bills. Allyson Ward and her husband loaded up credit cards, borrowed from relatives, and delayed repaying student loans after the premature birth of their twins left them with $80,000 in debt. Ward, a nurse practitioner, took on extra nursing shifts, working days and nights. “I wanted to be a mom,” she said. “But we had to have the money.”

People In Debt Have Formed A Union To Fight Back

In November, Pennsylvania permitted the resumption of utility shutoffs during the pandemic. In advance, the local Debt Collective, which helps people dispute their debts and fight back against predatory fees, protested. The group helped organize a gathering of between 20 and 30 protesters in Philadelphia to demand the moratorium continue. “We are tired of this,” Pennsylvania Debt Collective organizer Lauren Horner told CBS. “We are tired of the greed displayed by these organizations.” Horner was referring to the Philadelphia Gas Works, the PECO Energy Company, and to what some in the Debt Collective regard as the negligence of the Public Utility Commission.

Safety Net Hospital Sues Poor Patients For Unpaid Bills

Nashville, TN - Nashville General is the city-funded, safety-net hospital. For a patient without insurance, this is supposed to be the best place to go. But its emergency room has been taking more patients to court for unpaid medical bills than any other hospital or practice in town. A WPLN investigation finds the physician staffing firm that runs the ER at Nashville General sued 700 patients in Davidson County this year — roughly the same number as all the other hospitals and physician staffing firms combined. They include uninsured patients like Sonya Johnson, a social worker and single mother from Antioch. Between a nonprofit clinic and General Hospital, Johnson had figured out how to manage her health problems even though she was uninsured until recently.
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