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Friday, July 12, 2024

Dissolving debt: Indy organizations announce medical debt relief 

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United Way of Central Indiana and United Neighborhood Centers of Indianapolis announced major medical debt relief to Indianapolis residents at a press conference Monday.  

For more than 112,000 Indiana residents in Boone, Hamilton, Hancock, Hendricks, Marion, Morgan and Putnam counties, a combined total of $239.6 million in medical debt will be paid by $1.7 million in combined donations. United Way of Central Indiana and the United Neighborhood Centers of Indianapolis partnered with an anonymous donor to collect the funds to purchase the medical debt to relieve Indiana residents. 

“Today’s announcement is not just about a crisis intervention. At United Way, we’re fighting for the long-term health and economic well-being of every person in our community,” said Fred Payne, president and CEO of United Way of Central Indiana. 

The funds were donated to a national nonprofit, Undue Medical Debt. The organization will use the funds to erase medical debt for people who are at or below 400% of the federal poverty line or people with a medical debt burden of 5% or more of their annual income. The organization says that for every $1 donated, an average of $100 in medical debt is eliminated.  

The funds will be broken down into the following counties:  

  • Boone County: more than $437,300 of debt relieved for 262 people. 
  • Hamilton County: more than $1.2 million of debt relieved for 737 people. 
  • Hancock County: more than $466,600 of debt relieved for 313 people. 
  • Hendricks County: more than $2.2 million of debt relieved for 1,286 people. 
  • Marion County: more than $234.2 million of debt relieved for 108,699 people. 
  • Morgan County: more than $710,200 of debt relieved for 496 people. 
  • Putnam County: more than $272,100 of debt relieved for 225 people. 

In Marion County, one in five people have medical debt, contributing to Indiana being the 11th highest amount of medical debt in the US. A problem that needs to be addressed, according to Peggy Frame, executive director of the Southeast Community Service.  

“It’s time for us to acknowledge that health care is a fundamental human right, not a privilege reserved for the wealthy,” Frame said. “We must strive for a system that ensures affordable access to quality care without the fear of financial ruin.” 

The president of Martin University, Sean Huddleston, spoke about the four areas in which policy in Indiana could be changed to help those with medical debt. The four areas are:  

  1. Strengthening charity care policies: by increasing the income threshold to qualify; establishing policies requiring patients be screened before billing to determine eligibility for financial assistance; and notifying patients of discount options at each payment point in case their income has changed.   
  1. Limiting damage to credit scores: by preventing medical debt from being reported against patients’ credit scores and preventing wage garnishment to collect unpaid medical debt.   
  1. Addressing billing and collection practices: by requiring debt collectors to inform patients if their debt has passed statutory repayment terms.   
  1. Controlling the cost of care: by requiring providers to delay medical debt being referred to collections while billing is being appealed; establishing pricing transparency and standardization; encouraging hospitals to enroll uninsured patients in ACA plans, Medicaid or other resources to ensure the cost of future care would be covered.   

Residents who have been selected will be receiving letters in the mail as soon as this week, and, as Huddleston explained, many Indiana hospitals are already working to lower the income requirements of Indiana residents to prevent debt from accumulating. Additionally, steps at the federal level are being taken to prevent medical debt from impacting credit scores.  

For more information, visit uwci.org.  

Contact Staff Writer Hanna Rauworth at 317-762-7854 or follow her on Instagram at @hanna.rauworth. 

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