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LA County will Launch Pilot Program to Eliminate Low-Income Residents’ Medical Debt 150 150 Hayley Munguia

LA County will Launch Pilot Program to Eliminate Low-Income Residents’ Medical Debt

A $5 million investment will eliminate an estimated $500 million of debt for 150,000 people

Los Angeles, CA—Today, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a proposal by Supervisor Janice Hahn and co-authored by Supervisor Holly Mitchell which identifies funding to launch a pilot program to eliminate medical debt for some struggling LA County residents. The pilot program will use $5 million to eliminate hundreds of millions of dollars of debt.

“No one should be driven into poverty because they got sick. But medical debt remains a huge problem in this country, and it can be devastating for families and their financial well-being,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn who has championed efforts to address medical debt for LA County residents. “Luckily for us, we have an opportunity to make a difference. We can purchase medical debt for cents on the dollar and eliminate this burden for tens of thousands of people for a small fraction of what they collectively owe. I think we have a moral obligation to seize this opportunity to help these LA County families.”

Medical debt is often bundled and sold at steep discounts to companies who profit off of collecting on that debt. Since 2014, the nonprofit Undue Medical Debt has leveraged donations to purchase medical debts much like a collection company would, but instead of trying to collect on the debt, they cancel the debt entirely. On average, $1 can purchase and eliminate $100 of medical debt.

Under Hahn and Mitchell’s proposal, LA County will partner with Undue Medical Debt to launch a medical debt elimination pilot program specifically targeting lower income LA County residents. The Department of Public Health estimates that with the up to $5 million identified today for the pilot program, LA County could eliminate $500 million of medical debt for 150,000 lower-income residents.

“I’m proud that the County is taking steps to help remove the weight of medical debt that strains countless families’ finances, stability, and health. This initial investment of $5 million towards eliminating crippling medical debt will significantly help our most vulnerable residents, many of whom have chronic illnesses and are struggling to pay huge out-of-pocket expenses,” said Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell, representing the Second District. “I want to thank the Department of Public Health for collaborating with community and hospital partners to implement this pilot program. I look forward to its transformative impact on our communities.”

In addition to identifying funding, the approved motion allows the Department of Public Health to enter into an agreement with Undue Medical Debt to design and execute the pilot program. Details regarding the pilot program, partnerships with the hospital association and other key stakeholders, and the timeline will be worked out and announced in the coming months. Once the medical debt pilot program is completed, the Department of Public Health will report back to the Board on its effectiveness and potential scalability.

“I want to express my gratitude to the Board of Supervisors for their commitment to this important initiative,” Barbara Ferrer, PhD, MPH, MEd, Director, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. “By launching this pilot program to eliminate medical debt for an estimated 150,000 residents and working in partnership with community organizations, health care providers, and health plans to prevent continued accumulation of debt, Los Angeles County is seeking to advance equity and compassion for those who are in need of care. This effort is about more than alleviating financial stress—it is about removing barriers to health that disproportionately affect residents in many communities.”

Medical debt exceeds $2.9 billion for LA County residents, impacting one in ten adults in 2022 and disproportionately affecting families with children, lower-income, Latino, Black, American Indian, and Pacific Islander residents, and people with chronic health conditions. Medical debt has been shown to impede patients’ ability to access necessary healthcare and treatment, creating a cycle of health and financial hardship which affects employment stability, housing security, and overall quality of life.

This pilot program is part of a larger strategy being developed by Los Angeles County to reduce the burden of medical debt. Last October, the Board approved a motion by Hahn and Mitchell directing County Departments to take initial action, research existing strategies, and report back with recommendations for further policies that can reduce medical debt in Los Angeles County. In response to this motion, County Departments began working with the Medical Debt Coalition on potential strategies to prevent and reduce medical debt for LA County residents culminating in the LA County Medical Debt Summit held in April.

At this summit, stakeholders and experts came together to outline a collective approach to eliminate the burden of medical debt, which includes County interventions, provider engagement, community action, legislative advocacy, data collection, operational improvements, and expanding consumer resources. One key strategy pushed at the summit and in the Department of Public Health’s subsequent report back was a targeted pilot program for medical debt relief. In a letter to the attendees of the Medical Debt Summit, Vice President Kamala Harris also highlighted the Biden Administration’s support of the cities and states that relieved billions in medical debt for millions of Americans.

Read the full motion here: https://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/bos/supdocs/192686.pdf

Read the Department of Public Health’s Medical Debt in LA County 2023 report: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/chie/reports/Medical_Debt_Report_English.pdf

Read the Department of Public Health’s Medical Debt in LA County 2024 update:
http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/hccp/docs/Medical_Debt_Update_Jan24_English.pdf

Hahn Celebrates $2 Million Grant to Catalina Island Health 150 150 Hayley Munguia

Hahn Celebrates $2 Million Grant to Catalina Island Health

San Pedro, CA – Today, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn is celebrating a vote by the LA Care Board of Governors to award a $2 million grant to Catalina Island Health. The grant funding will allow the Avalon hospital to remain open through December.

“This small hospital not only provides essential healthcare for island residents, it is the only source of emergency care on the island for millions of tourists,” said Supervisor Hahn, who represents Catalina Island on the Board of Supervisors. “It would be catastrophic if this hospital were to close. I want to thank LA Care CEO John Baackes for his leadership in this effort and I applaud the LA Care Board of Governors, especially my colleague Supervisor Hilda Solis, for coming to Catalina Island Health’s aid and making sure their doors remain open for patients. I am committed to working on a long-term solution to keep this hospital operating in the future.”

Catalina Island Health has faced serious financial challenges with the CEO predicting insolvency as soon as June of this year. The grant awarded today allows the hospital to avert imminent closure. The hospital is the sole provider of emergency, primary, and lifesaving care for residents and visitors to Catalina Island.

Board Approves Hahn-Mitchell Proposals to Reduce Medical Debt for Local Families 150 150 Esteban Garcia

Board Approves Hahn-Mitchell Proposals to Reduce Medical Debt for Local Families

Los Angeles, CA – Today, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion authored by Board Chair Janice Hahn and co-authored by Supervisor Holly Mitchell aimed at reducing the burden of medical debt on county residents. Strategies the County will pursue include requiring hospitals to share debt-collection and financial assistance data with the County and the public, new policies to reduce accumulation of debt, and exploring an innovative proposal to purchase residents’ debt for a small fraction of its value and retiring it.
“Medical debt is something that is largely out of people’s control, but it is devasting families here in LA County,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “It is contributing to poverty and homelessness and forcing too many people to delay medical care or avoid filling prescriptions. Helping families with the burden of medical debt would pay dividends.”
When families rack up medical debt, hospitals sell it for pennies on the dollar on a secondary market to companies that profit from collecting on that debt. In recent years, groups such as RIP Medical Debt have worked with other jurisdictions, such as Cook County, to purchase and retire medical debt for qualifying individuals from their local hospitals for a fraction of the value of the debt.
According to RIP Medical Debt, the retirement of $100 of medical debt costs an average of $1. The Department of Public Health estimates that an investment of $24 million could retire $2 billion in medical debt for LA County residents.
Through today’s motion, the Board will receive a report in 90 days on the feasibility of purchasing and retiring County residents’ medical debt as well as potential County, State, Federal, and philanthropic funding sources to support this endeavor.
“Far too many people in my district, particularly our essential workers, Black, Latinx, and low-income families with children, have been burdened by medical debt,” said Supervisor Holly Mitchell. “In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must continue to be creative in offering strategic and innovative solutions across our County departments. This motion brings us a significant step closer towards better understanding the full scale of this challenge and applying proven strategies that have been done in other counties to help prevent and relieve medical debt for our constituents.”
The motion passed today also directs the development of a new ordinance that will require hospitals within Los Angeles County to provide data related to debt-collection and financial assistance which will be shared publicly in a new online dashboard for patients. County departments will also study and recommend new policies and practices to reduce residents’ medical debt including improving access to financial and legal assistance.
Approximately one in ten County adults face burdensome medical debt, with the total amount of medical debt held by Los Angeles County residents estimated to be greater than $2.6 billion. This medical debt disproportionately affects lower-income residents and Latino, Black, and Native or mixed-race communities, families with children and those with chronic health conditions. According to a report by the LA County Department of Public Health, residents with medical debt are more likely to experience food insecurity and housing instability, with nearly half reporting inability to pay for necessities because of their medical bills.
“Medical debt prevents people from seeking medical care and prescriptions and contributes to food and housing insecurity,” said Western Center on Law and Poverty Executive Director Crystal Crawford and Senior Attorney Helen Tran in a letter of support for the motion. “These health and financial harms can be avoided and corrected with the right policies. That is why we support this motion and the County’s willingness to take affirmative steps to reduce medical debt at a population health level.”
“Medical debt remains a public health emergency in Los Angeles County and serves as a consequential deterrent and social determinant when it comes to patients seeking appropriate and timely medical care. The physicians on Los Angeles County stand in solidarity and support with the LA County Board of Supervisors, the Department of Public Health, and many others to address this crisis,” said Dr. Jerry P Abraham, President of the Los Angeles County Medical Association.
Read the full motion here: https://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/bos/supdocs/184546.pdf

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