New Wayne County program will relieve $700M in medical debt

Each year, the financial strain of medical debt bears heavily on the shoulders of millions of Americans.

An analysis by Becker's Hospital Review found that Wayne County ranks eighth among all U.S. counties when it comes to medical debt.

"In our current healthcare system, 50% of the people who take on medical debt are taking it on despite the fact they have insurance," said Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, director of the Wayne County Department of Health, Human & Veterans Services.

However, Wayne County is now rolling out a program that will provide assistance to residents who qualify.

"What we’re doing is partnering with RIP Medical Debt to enter into agreements with local healthcare systems, hospitals, physicians, groups to buyout outstanding medical debt and then relieve it," El-Sayed said.

Residents do not have to apply for the program, and it won't cost the county as much as one might think.

"We’re going to be able to relieve up to $700 million of medical debt with an investment of about $7 million," El-Sayed said. "So that means for about 300,000 people, who meet criteria in Wayne County, they are set up to have their medical debt relieved."

Federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act are helping make this initiative possible, but only certain residents will receive the benefit.

RIP Medical Debt will identify "people who earn up to 400% of the federal poverty line, or whose debt is over 5% of their annual income," El-Sayed continued. "Once an agreement is reached with the hospital with which you hold medical debt, you get a letter telling you that your debt was relieved."

Last year, Oakland County announced their own partnership with RIP Medical Debt to help eligible residents. 


$200M of medical debt for Oakland County residents will be erased with new program

Officials say about 114,000 Oakland County residents carry medical debt, and those who are eligible for the program don’t have to do anything to apply.

"We’re grateful that our partners in Oakland County are doing the same thing," El-Sayed said.

The impact of medical debt is far-reaching. According to some industry professionals, they can see the negative impact of medical debt.

"As a mortgage broker, you're often pulling people’s credit, of course, to get approved for a mortgage – and when I’m pulling it, they have medical debt on there. It's typically lowering their credit scores," said Felix Daniel.

That is why Wayne County officials believe more needs to be done to eliminate medical debt.

"We also urge policymakers at other levels to act because this really is a moral crisis that too many face in our country," El-Sayed said.