Ingham County funds program to relieve local medical debt


(This story has been updated to correct an editing error. An earlier version reported the wrong amount of medical debt projected to be eliminated in Ingham County by combining $500,000 in county and state funds. The correct figure is $50 million.)

When Ingham County Commissioner Myles Johnson learned last summer that the state of Michigan had budgeted matching funds to help residents erase their medical debt with assistance from a national nonprofit, he knew he had to get the ball rolling as soon as possible.

Johnson contacted RIP Medical Debt, a 10-year-old nonprofit in New York, to find out more. “So how many people can we impact here in Ingham County?” he asked a representative.

“And he did some rough math numbers — it was around 20,000,” Johnson said. “When he explained to me the impact that it will make on our county residents, I was like, ‘That’s worth every penny.’ And so, from that point, it was just about getting it in front of the right people — staff and fellow commissioners — to get it through.”

As a result, the Board of Commissioners appropriated $250,000 last week to participate in the program that works to abolish medical debt nationwide. With the matching state funding from a $4.5 million pool, the nonprofit will have $500,000 to assist county residents in settling medical debts for more than 22,000 county residents.

Myles Johnson
Myles Johnson

That means a $50 million reduction in local medical debt because the national charity “acquires patients’ medical debt from medical providers for about one penny on the dollar — and then absolves it,” the county said in a news release.

“RIP Medical Debt has acquired and abolished over $10.4 billion in medical debt for 7.1 million people nationwide,” the release added.

Johnson said RIP Medical Debt recruits hospitals and medical providers on a confidential basis to request data files and identify patients or guarantors who meet program eligibility.

“They reach out to the hospitals and make their own negotiations,” he said.

Patients qualify if they have household incomes of up to 400% of the federal poverty guidelines and medical debt of at least 5% or more of their income. Those eligible will receive a letter stating their medical debt has been eliminated. RIP Medical Debt keeps their identities confidential, even to the government.

Commissioner Gabrielle Lawrence said she was familiar with RIP Medical Debt before receiving the proposal and was on board with implementing it in Ingham County.

“I know what they do, I know who they help and how they work, and I thought that this was just such an amazing opportunity for the county, to help county residents who are some of the most vulnerable county residents that we have,” Lawrence said. “These are people who —through no fault of their own — got sick and have medical debt.”

The county’s participation in RIP Medical Debt helps prevent residents from having to file for bankruptcy due to medical debt.

“We know that the way the medical system is structured in this country, it’s really difficult —unless you have really good insurance — to make sure that all of your bills are going to be paid,” Lawrence said. “And a lot of people don’t have really good insurance. Insurance is really expensive, and that really hinders a lot of people who need medical attention.”

Although the board voted to participate in the program, Lawrence said the contract with RIP Medical Debt “is still a work in progress.”

“There has not been a formal agreement signed, yet,” Lawrence said. “The action that the board of commissioners took on Tuesday night just was the approval to go forward with this, but I imagine that in the imminent future, that agreement will be signed.”

Johnson has been serving as a commissioner since January 2023, representing District 5 in Southwest Lansing. Lawrence, who took office last year, represents District 10 in Northeast Lansing.

Johnson “is our youngest commissioner, he’s in his mid-20s, this is his first term, and I could not be prouder of him for spearheading this effort,” Lawrence said.

Johnson said the work RIP Medical Debt does is “phenomenal.”

“I hope that we can continue doing it,” Johnson said, “ not just this year but moving forward.”


medical debt, ingham county, RIP medical debt


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