Thursday, May 30, 2024

COVID-19 Money Will Pay Residents’ Medical Debts

'Medical debt relief is important...'

(David Beasley, The Center Square) – The Orange County Commission has agreed to spend $4.5 million in leftover federal COVID-19 relief funds to pay off the medical debts of county residents.

A group called Central Florida Jobs with Justice requested that the county spend $8.7 million of COVID-19 relief money for medical debt relief, according to a county presentation on the question.

Orange County is in central Florida, with population of about 1.4 million. The county seat is Orlando.

The amount could wipe out $827 million in debt for 300,000 Orange County residents, the group said. Medical debt can be purchased for “pennies on the dollar,” the county’s presentation said.

“Medical debt relief is important,” Commissioner Maribel Gomez Cordero said. “I want to help our community with this problem.”

Medical debt relief is a “negotiated process,” with medical providers said Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings.

Other governments such as Cook County, Ill., and New Orleans have approved similar programs, Demings said.

“We do have the experience of those communities,” he said. “If we make the decision that we want to participate in the medical relief program, at least there are some other metropolitan communities that have gone before us. They can better explain to us their outcome, how did it work within their respective jurisdictions.”

Health care is a right, said Vice Mayor Nicole Wilson.

“There shouldn’t be some kind of qualification in a country this wealthy,” she said.

However, she questioned whether the county could negotiate directly with health care providers without having to use a third party nonprofit specializing in that field, which Wilson described as a “middle man.”

Third-party negotiators can be valuable in bringing about debt settlement, Demings said.

“There’s a certain skill set that these companies have with collecting debt that we really don’t have,” he said. “The scale of what we’re talking about here is pretty extraordinary.”

Although the commission did not approve the full amount requested by Central Florida Jobs With Justice, it was a start, Demings said.

“We may not have gone all the way,” he said. “But if that is the consensus of the board, that is the direction we are going to give staff.”

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