The Metro: New program erasing medical debt for Wayne County residents

The new program is for households that earn less than four times the federal poverty level or whose debt is 5% or more of their annual income. 

The largest source of debt for Americans is medical debt. 

About 14 million Americans owe more than $1,000 and three million owe more than $10,000, according to the KFF-Peterson Health System Tracker.

Dr. Abdul El Sayed, director of the Wayne County Department of Health, Human and Veterans Services, joined The Metro on Tuesday to discuss a new program working to erase medical debt for up to 300,000 Wayne County residents. They’re teaming with RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit that’s also doing similar work in Oakland and Kalamazoo counties. 

RIP takes donations and uses it to buy million dollar bundles of debt, far cheaper than the original price, according to their website. The organization then notifies people whose debt they’ve bought to let them know it’s gone. 

“And it’s a win win win all around, obviously, for the individual who’s debt is clear, that’s a huge win for them. It’s a win for those hospitals in those clinics, because that’s debt they probably would never have been able to recoup,” El Sayed said. “And then it’s a win for the county, because think about all of the financial economic opportunities and activity that’s foregone because people have taken on this debilitating debt.”

The new program is for households that earn less than four times the federal poverty level or whose debt is 5% or more of their annual income. 

“And too often, when you’re talking about the kind of folks who take on medical debt, you’re talking about people who can’t afford it in a health care system where we’ve watched as prices have skyrocketed over time and really nobody’s doing anything about it,” El Sayed said. “And so what we’re saying is, we are stuck here with a moral dilemma where people literally can’t afford their health care.” 

More headlines from The Metro on March 26, 2024:

  • A new shuttle service launched this week that connects downtown Detroit to the Detroit Metro Airport. Cori Wofford, director of external affairs for the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan, joined the show to let listeners know how they can climb on board. 
  • A new stamp is honoring Detroiter William Lambert who played an important role on the Underground Railroad. WDET’s Bre’Anna Tinsley spoke with Kimberly Simmons, president of the Detroit River Project, about her family’s connection to Lambert.

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