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We in Cook County Have Decided to Abolish Medical Debt This Year. Join Us

by admin

As we usher in a new year, Cook County is setting forth a bold New Year’s resolution: helping to abolish medical debt through our transformative Medical Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI). Cook County is well known for its criminal justice reform efforts, but we recognize that true justice extends even further into accessible and affordable healthcare for all.

Using funds provided by President Joe Biden‘s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), MDRI has been a beacon of hope for our most vulnerable residents throughout Chicagoland. With just $12 million, we have the opportunity to wipe away up to $1 billion in medical debt, offering a fresh start for tens of thousands of Cook County families. MDRI has already erased over $280 million in medical expenses for more than 150,000 Cook County residents, and in this season of new beginnings, we are not merely erasing debt; we are helping to rewrite the stories of individuals like Amy Medina.

Americans collectively owe an estimated $60 billion to $125 billion in COVID-related medical debt—a figure that’s sure to grow, experts say.

Amy, a young mother from Palatine, IL and one of the initiative’s early recipients, shares a story that reflects the struggles she shares with too many in Cook County and across the nation. Living with type 1 diabetes, the cost of Amy’s life-saving medication and care was often an insurmountable barrier. Facing impossible choices, she often found herself deciding between purchasing insulin or diapers for her child. Despite having insurance, her high copayments and unexpected bills resulted in a mounting financial crisis. Eventually, she was forced to max out credit cards, fearing the repercussions of escalating debt.

Amy’s story is not unique. It is emblematic of a national crisis. Medical debt is now the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States and places a heavy burden on households that are already struggling. And, as is true for so many issues of poverty in our country, this burden disproportionately falls on Black and Latino communities, another stark example of the disparities that demand our urgent attention as government leaders.

MDRI works thanks to a partnership with RIP Medical Debt, a national nonprofit, and represents a novel approach to tackling this issue. By purchasing medical debt directly from providers and then forgiving the debt, the initiative not only alleviates immediate financial burdens but also contributes to a healthier community.

By lifting the burden, people are able to seek the care and help they need without having to wait until a medical emergency to seek treatment, lessening the load on the healthcare system. When people are relieved of their debt, they are also able to raise their credit score, have more for discretionary spending, save or invest, apply for loans or a mortgage, and ultimately strengthen the economy.

When Amy received the letter saying that her debt had been forgiven, she said it brought her a sense of hope. Her story, now one of relief and optimism, serves as a testament to the tangible impact MDRI has on individuals and families.

As we celebrate the successes of MDRI, we extend an invitation to leaders across the nation to follow Cook County’s lead. From Connecticut to New Orleans, local governments are now exploring their own programs. My message to those considering: Let’s collaborate, share experiences, and stand united against the injustices of medical debt.

Together, we can turn this resolution into a national movement.

Our New Year’s resolution doesn’t end with erasing debt. It extends to a grander vision. In 2024, let’s collectively advocate for universal healthcare. In one of the wealthiest nations in the world, no one should face the heartbreaking choice between health and financial ruin. By implementing universal healthcare, we can ensure that access to quality healthcare is a right, not a privilege.

This New Year, let’s not just envision change; let’s actively pursue it. Cook County’s MDRI is providing an opportunity for the recipients who benefit and serving as a catalyst for a broader movement towards a future where healthcare is guaranteed for every American. Join us in this resolution for health equity, and together, let’s make 2024 a year of transformative change.

Toni Preckwinkle is the President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.