A table and map that show the concentration of residents eligible for medical debt relief. (Provided graphic)
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County to erase more than $79M in medical debt

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced on Wednesday, May 10, that Cook County’s Medical Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI) has successfully acquired and will erase $79.2 million in medical debt for 72,989 county residents. 

A table and map that show the concentration of residents eligible for medical debt relief. (Provided graphic)
A table and map that show the concentration of residents eligible for medical debt relief. (Provided graphic)

The County has already acquired and erased over $25 million in medical debt for 45,000 county residents, and has now acquired and will abolish the remaining $54 million in debt for nearly 28,000 residents in the coming weeks. 

The County is planning on issuing additional medical debt relief in the coming months. The program is funded using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars and is being implemented in partnership with national nonprofit RIP Medical Debt.

“This innovative initiative demonstrates our commitment to making healthcare accessible to all and supporting our most vulnerable families,” Preckwinkle said. “Medical debt is a social determinant of health that can undermine people’s physical and mental wellbeing by creating stress and preventing necessary follow-up visits.”

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Cook County is partnering with RIP Medical Debt, a national, independent 501(c)(3) charitable organization, on this initiative. Through the partnership, RIP Medical Debt contacts hospitals and health systems serving Cook County and negotiates the sale or donation of portfolios of medical debt. People qualify for the program based on financial hardship and other criteria. 

Any hospital or physician group that serves Cook County is encouraged to participate in the MDRI program and provide qualifying medical debt for abolishment. 

“Medical debt is the leading cause of bankruptcy and undermines health in myriad ways; it’s our pleasure to make this debt relief possible,” said Allison Sesso, president and CEO of RIP Medical Debt. “No one should choose between putting food on the table or keeping themselves and their family healthy.”

Individuals who qualify for medical debt abolishment through MDRI must live in Cook County, have incomes up to 400 percent of the current Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG), or have medical debt that is 5% or more of their annual income. 

Medical debt abolishment cannot be requested by an individual. Those eligible with debts in the portfolios RIP is able to acquire from local healthcare providers will have debt erased without taking any action. Recipients are notified by mail that their debts have been relieved, and any negative marks on their credit reports are removed. Because medical debt is purchased in bundled portfolios for a fraction of its face value, one dollar on average abolishes $100 of medical debt.

Medical debt is a growing problem in the United States and Cook County. Nationally, there are over 100 million adults with medical debt totaling an estimated $195 billion. In Cook County, over 14% of households hold some form of medical debt. Moreover, people of color are disproportionately impacted by medical debt – Black adults are 50% more likely and Hispanic adults are 35% more likely to hold medical debt compared to white residents nationally.

The county released a list of the top 10 ZIP codes affected by the program. Homewood and Flossmoor ZIP codes were not among them. The zip code with the most debt erased was 60629, which includes Bedford Park, with $14.8 million in debt relief.

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