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Oakland County program could clear medical debt for up to 80,000 residents

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Some Oakland County residents could have their medical debt eliminated thanks to a new county program.

The program calls for using $2 million in federal COVID relief funds to buy up medical debt. It will then be canceled and cleared from people’s credit reports.

Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter said that because medical debt can be acquired for pennies on the dollar, a small investment can bring relief to many people.

“Two million in the grand scheme of the 80,000 or so Oakland County residents that might be eligible for this program could be a drop in the bucket. But $200 million is transformational,” Coulter said.

The county will administer the program with the non-profit group RIP Medical Debt, which will work with area hospitals to identify people who may be eligible. There are income-eligibility guidelines, and residents don’t apply for the program. RIP Medical Debt will notify those selected that some or all of their debt has been eliminated.

Kyra Taylor is a beneficiary of the group’s work. Taylor was diagnosed with diabetes at age 10, and accumulated medical debt after losing her health insurance at 18. She said before her debts were cleared, she constantly struggled to make ends meet, and constantly rationed her medication because she couldn’t afford it.

“This is giving me my life back,” Taylor said. “Like I can travel, I can go to work, I can pay my bills. I don't have to worry about nobody threatening my mom about me paying any bills…this is a relief.”

The county said an estimated 114,000 Oakland County residents carry medical debt, which is the number one cause of personal bankruptcy in the U.S. County officials said having medical debt has spiraling repercussions on people’s lives, including leading them to delay needed care for fear of going into more debt.

Coulter said the program will take some time to set up, but should be up and running sometime early next year.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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