Sep 18, 2023

Akron is Latest OH City to Retire Medical Debt

Akron is Latest OH City to Retire Medical Debt

Brett Peveto

Since the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act in 2021, a number of cities and counties in Ohio and around the nation have used ARPA funding to retire medical debt.

Over the summer, Akron became the latest community in Ohio to adopt a plan to retire such debts.

The city council allocated $500,000 to purchase debts through the non-profit RIP Medical Debt. RIP in turn negotiates with hospitals and debt collectors to buy old debts for pennies on the dollar and then forgives them.

Akron Ward 1 City Council Representative Nancy Holland said these debts take a toll on the community.

"Medical debt is one of the leading causes of personal bankruptcy," said Holland. "It's also a leading cause of divorce, of job disruption, of inability to qualify for most major loans like home loans, it can also cause trouble in a rental application, just to rent an apartment. "

Akron joins Lucas County, Toledo, and Cleveland in using ARPA funds to eliminate medical debts. The anticipated value of retired debts from Akron's allocation is up to $50 million.

After entering into a contract with a local government, RIP Medical Debt reviews hospital debt portfolios to determine which ones will be retired.

Residents who qualify must earn less than 400% of the federal poverty level, and their medical debts must be at least 5% of their annual income.

Allison Sesso is the president and CEO of RIP, and says medical debt can be hard to avoid.

"I think medical debt is different than other kinds of debt, because of the fact that it's inherent in the system," said Sesso. "And it's sort of a trap, you can't avoid it. You can have insurance and yet you still have medical debt. You can do all the right things and you still have medical debt. You don't control the pricing. It is not transparent as a system and so it's really hard to avoid. "

Pre-pandemic research found that 23 million Americans have medical debt, with 3 million owing more than $10,000.

While these debts are accumulated in countless ways, and at different types of healthcare organizations, Sesso said RIP will negotiate with anyone to buy qualifying medical debt belonging to those most financially burdened.

"There's often been questions about whether or not we'll work with certain kinds of hospitals, that maybe are seen as bad actors," said Sesso. "And at the end of the day, we really focus on the patient. If you have debt at a bad actor hospital, you shouldn't be punished for that."

Sesso said to date, RIP has retired $10 billion of debt for 7 million people nationally.

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