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Black Americans With Medical Debt Can Receive Support from Local Government Agencies

A recent survey has found that an estimated 56 percent of Black American adults have debt related to medical or dental bills. In response several municipalities are stepping up to offer support to alleviate the financial burden. 

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The KFF Health Care Debt Survey found that more than half of Black Americans carried medical debt. This was in sharp comparison to the 37 percent of white Americans who also had medically related debt. The survey, conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, also revealed that 24 percent of Black American adults surveyed believed that they would never be able to repay their medical debt.  

Not being able to repay a debt has many negative consequences. According to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, $88 billion in medical debt is on consumer debt records. While most medical debts are less than $500, it is not uncommon for people with medical debt to have multiple medical collections. Having unpaid medical debt will appear on someone’s credit report and lower their score — making it difficult to own a home. 

Help Is On The Way 

Municipalities throughout the country are using COVID relief funds to provide assistance to residents looking to manage their medical debt. 

“Medical debt is something that people can’t help and it’s not their fault,” Somerville City Council Member Willie Burnley Jr. told The Associated Press. “No one chooses to get hurt or to get sick.”

In January, the city council of Somerville, a suburb of Boston, passed a resolution to allocate $200,000 of its $77 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to medical debt. Council members voted unanimously to pass the resolution, which they believe can assist its residents in repaying an estimated $4.3 million in medical debt. 

Other municipalities, state and local government agencies are following suit. They are all partnering with RIP Medical Debt, a New York-based nonprofit organization that purchases the medical debt, and consolidates the costs, making it cheaper for people. 

In Cook County, Illinois, for instance,  government officials have launched the Cook County Medical Debt Relief Initiative using its COVID funds. Working with RIP Medical Debt, the program hopes to cancel an estimated $1 billion of medical debt. 

In addition, officials in Connecticut, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, are also launching plans to support its residents, according to The Associated Press. 

And in Toledo, Ohio, city and Lucas County officials are allocating $1.6 million to help wipe out $240 million in medical debt. Officials expect this will help at least 41,000 residents. 

“It’s such a great return on investment,” Ohio state Rep. Michee Grim told AP. “I really couldn’t think of a better way to use dollars that were meant to aid in the economic recovery of our citizens.”

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