Health Care Reform, Local, Medical, Park Forest

Cook County Abolishing $281.3M in Medical Debt Underscores a Crisis.

Cook County, IL-(ENEWSPF)- Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced the success of the Cook County Medical Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI) in acquiring and abolishing a total of $281.3 million in medical debt, benefiting 158,541 Cook County residents since the program’s inception in 2022.

President Preckwinkle expressed pride in the initiative’s accomplishments and highlighted its collaboration with the University of Chicago Medicine, which played a significant role in the latest round of debt abolishment, marking the most considerable impact to date. She credited the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for its transformative effect on MDRI, expressing anticipation for further relief to Cook County residents disproportionately affected by this debt.

85,060 UChicago Medicine Patients See Debt Forgiven

The recent debt abolishment, facilitated by UChicago Medicine, involved collaboration with the national non-profit RIP Medical Debt. Cook County purchased and forgave $173.7 million in medical debt through RIP Medical Debt. These were for 85,060 patients served by the University of Chicago Medical Center, University of Chicago Physicians Group, or UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial Hospital. On average, each UChicago Medicine patient received $2,043 in debt relief. Over 75% of patient households report annual incomes below $51,000.

UChicago Health System

Tom Jackiewicz, President of the UChicago Health System, emphasized the benefits of debt forgiveness, citing its positive impact on patients’ peace of mind and removing psychological barriers that might delay essential medical care.

The MDRI program, funded by $12 million in ARPA dollars, operates in partnership with RIP Medical Debt. The program’s approach involves negotiating the sale or donation of medical debt portfolios from hospitals and health systems serving Cook County, allowing MDRI to cancel debts for qualifying residents experiencing financial hardship. The program encourages the participation of hospitals and physician groups providing hospital-based care.

RIP Medical Debt Commends Initiative’s Impact

Allison Sesso, President and CEO of RIP Medical Debt, commended the initiative’s impact, noting increased provider support and underscoring the significance of the county’s vision in making the partnership impactful.

To qualify for medical debt abolishment through MDRI, individuals must:

  • reside in Cook County,
  • have incomes up to 400 percent of the current Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG),
  • or have medical debt comprising 5% or more of their annual income.

Eligible patients receive debt relief without taking any action, with notifications sent by mail and associated negative credit marks removed.

Testimonials from beneficiaries, such as Sherry, Karen, and Patricia, underscore the profound impact of MDRI in alleviating financial burdens associated with this type of debt in particular.

Sherry ($12,853 abolished)

“…I suffered from ovarian pains after having a partial hysterectomy. At the time, I was unemployed and fighting my unemployment decision. The ovarian pain was horrible, and I had no choice but to go to the ER. After running tests, they found inflammation that could be resolved with pain medication and rest. I received a bill shortly thereafter that caused me additional stress.

“I don’t like bills, so I make sure to take care of them fairly quickly. However, because of my situation, I couldn’t even look at the bill let alone figure out how to take care of it. Then, on September 8th, 2023, I received my letter notifying me that my medical debt was PAID! I could not believe it. I am overjoyed. Thank you, Cook County and RIP Medical Debt, for erasing my debt! I cannot thank you enough for what you have done, and I appreciate you more than you will ever know! God bless you!”

Karen ($4,237 abolished)

“RIP Medical Debt has been a lifesaver for me. I’m grateful now that I don’t have to worry about how I will pay this debt. It’s so embarrassing when the provider states how much I owe. This is especially true when I don’t have the money to cover it. Thank you for saving me from the debt collector. Now I’m able to hold my head up high, because RIP Medical Debt came to my rescue. Thank you so much.”

Patricia ($4,854 abolished)

“I am both surprised and grateful to RIP Medical Debt for abolishing my medical debt. I have been plagued with medical debt all of my adult life due to a genetic disease. Care has cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years and it will continue. This help removes the depression associated with the obligation to pay and lets me know that there is someone who cares. This is the best gift I’ve ever received. This organization is truly worthy of all the financial support it receives from kindhearted, selfless, and generous donors. It has made a huge difference in my life and that of others who have benefitted from their benevolence, I’m sure. Thank you so much!”

The need for this action also highlights the escalating issue of debt associated with health care nationally, with over 100 million adults grappling with an estimated $195 billion in medical debt. Notably, people of color bear a disproportionate burden, with Black adults 50 percent more likely and Hispanic adults 35 percent more likely to carry medical debt compared to their white counterparts.

In this case, we used ChatGPT to rewrite the press release we received from Cook County.