City of Toledo, Lucas County vote to spend federal money on buying medical debt for residents

$1.6 million investment could save residents as much as $240 million.

Toledo, Ohio skyline.

Toledo City Council voted to spend $800,000 to purchase medical debt of people that live in the city.

The measure follows a similar vote by Lucas County Commissioners for a separate $800,000 purchase. The $1.6 million investment could save residents upwards of $240 million. The money comes from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The municipalities are partnering with RIP Medical Debt — a non-profit that buys up and forgives the liens.

Dr. Michele Grim is a Toledo city councilwoman and was a driving force in using the ARPA money to purchase the medical debt. She tells WDET’s Russ McNamara how the plan came together.

“Cook County (Illinois) is the first municipality to use American rescue plan dollars to relieve medical debt for their citizens. So they passed theirs in July. And essentially, I’m taking their model, using it here in Toledo in Lucas County,” says Grim.

She acknowledges that paying off medical debt is a symptom to a much larger problem.

“I can’t fix that broken health care system on a local level,” Grim admits. “As you know, it’s gonna take a national effort. But we can do something simple like this in municipalities around the country to relieve medical debt for many citizens who cannot pay.”

Grim was just elected to the Ohio State Legislature. She’s optimistic eliminating medical debt is something her new colleagues can get behind.

“Everyone knows someone who has struggled with medical debt, either currently or in the past,” Grim says. “Medical debt is the number one reason why people go into bankruptcy. And now we know that medical debt really exacerbates several social determinants of health like paying their rent, paying their utilities, it exacerbates evictions, and people avoid going to the doctor because they can’t pay their medical bills. So I really think this is a bipartisan issue.”

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  • Russ McNamara
    Russ McNamara is the host of All Things Considered for 101.9 WDET, presenting local news to the station’s loyal listeners. He's been an avid listener of WDET since he moved to metro Detroit in 2002.