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Cleveland City Council proposes using federal tax money to wipe out citizens' medical debt

CLE City Council proposes to us tax money for citizen medical debt relief
Posted at 5:20 PM, Jan 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-24 19:20:47-05

CLEVELAND — Your medical debt could be wiped clean thanks to newly proposed legislation by Cleveland City Council. It could mean about $200 million worth of past medical bills would be forgiven. It proposes to use the same company that News 5 partnered with when our station forgave medical debt for Northeast Ohioans, but this time federal tax money could be going directly to hospitals.

“There’s probably nobody in the city that’s not touched by medical debt,” said Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin. “We want to try to find pathways to make a healthier Cleveland, and we think this is a huge way of doing it.”

Council Member Charles Slife agreed. “Especially in our lower income neighborhoods, in our communities of color where where medical debt is held disproportionately and at higher levels,” said Slife.

NEWS 5 DIAGNOSIS: DEBT SERIES

You might remember the News 5 Investigative series called Diagnosis: Debt where we spent months reporting on outrageous medical bills from people in our area. Some of the bills were in the tens-of-thousands of dollars.

“Never thought something like this would happen to us,” said Julie Hleba who received a $37,000+ bill.

“No one really had eyes on it,” said Dan Mascarenhas at the time about his $57,000 bill.

“Until we were involved?” News 5 asked.

“Until you were involved,” Mascarenhas told us.

That series led to our station helping wipe out $1.5 million of medical debt using the organization R.I.P. Medical Debt.

WORKING DIRECTLY WITH HOSPITALS

“We mimic for-profit debt buyers, except we’re a nonprofit. So, we do it purely for debt relief purposes,” said R.I.P.’s CEO Allison Sesso. She told us R.I.P. often works directly with hospitals.

Some question if ARPA money should go to medical businesses for the purposes of debt relief.

Sesso told us R.I.P. has worked with Chicago’s ARPA funds and Toledo has already proposed using ARPA money. “I think we’re taking some really good strides and steps forward to do some debt relief there,” said Sesso.

COULD TAKE 'A LITTLE TIME'

When News 5 purchased the $1.5 million in debt back in 2019, it took months for R.I.P. to secure that debt in our area. Now, with the proposed Cleveland City Council relief effort of $200 million, how long could that take?

“It depends on how quickly the hospitals move forward with us, but a lot of them tend to move forward quickly,” said Sesso. “They are bureaucracies just like government is. So, it does take a little time.”

Also, there are very specific rules for ARPA money. Council’s proposal has to go through the committee and legal process to be certain it’s following all guidelines before approval and helping citizens. “To make sure that people touch, feel and see the changes in their lives we’re trying to make,” said President Griffin.

The legislation states the debt relief could help nearly 49,000 people in Cleveland if passed. We’ll continue to follow the proposal as it makes its way through the process.

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