Opinion editor’s note: Star Tribune Opinion publishes articles combining national and local Commentary Every day, online and in print.Click to contribute here. This article relates to the Star Tribune’s call for submissions for his Opinion on his June 4th question, “Where does Minnesota go from here?” Read the full response here.
Recently, the CA Foundation, a Fergus Falls-based nonprofit, donated to RIP Medical Debt to wipe out $3.3 million in medical debt for approximately 3,700 Minnesotans. I oversee the foundation and am a major donor. Beginning this week, thousands of people across the state have received letters stating that their medical debt will be eliminated and the associated stains on their personal financial records will be erased. They are more likely to engage in good preventive care without shame again.
In making this donation, I said Minnesota could become the first state without medical debt. Many people have asked me, “Is it possible?” Yes, but it requires a village. Already one of the lowest rates of people with medical debt on their credit reports, according to the Urban Institute’s famous study, nationally he was 2% to 9. %is. But let’s look at it from another angle. About 150,000 residents in our state owe her nearly $400 million in debt. And some experts believe those numbers are artificially low because debts often sit in limbo for years before being handed over to collection.
What should I do? Here are five principles to guide us. These will require action by the governor, votes by Congress, cooperation of hospitals and health care providers, public participation, and a way to pool donations statewide.
1) Many cities and counties across the country have partnered with RIP Medical Debt to use federally funded American Relief Plans Act funds to directly eliminate medical debt from local hospitals. Can the entire state petition for access to these funds? Yes. Minnesota, be the first.
2) Our legislators need to create a new program to “check the box” on tax returns to donate $5 to statewide pools to alleviate medical debt. Certainly there will be partisan debates about what to do with it. But if 20% of the state’s 3 million taxpayers gave him $5, that would be $3 million a year. This amount, minus administrative costs, would write off the medical debt of an estimated 10,000 Minnesotans each year. In 10 years, you may have no outstanding medical debt. With increased awareness and generous donations from corporate leaders, celebrities and the wealthy, Minnesotan’s medical debt could be wiped out within five years.
3) Minnesota’s Attorney General and non-profit hospitals have agreed to the nation’s best deal to reduce medical debt that hurts credit scores. This program should be advertised in public spaces and businesses so that state residents are informed about their rights. Must be visible in hospitals and medical institutions. There is little cost to the taxpayer in this regard. It may be realized by the action of the governor.
4) Increased transparency. Most people would be shocked to learn that a healthcare provider sold her $10,000 medical bills for just $200. There are many reasons why information is not readily available. Lack of information can destabilize debt collection operations and disrupt the operations of hospitals and healthcare providers. And many would argue that the government has no way or role to regulate this kind of disclosure. All true. But let’s start the discussion. Shouldn’t each of us know the value of our debt? A little sunshine goes a long way.
5) Build up civilian brigades. If funds were to be amassed to pay off medical debt, however it was done, there would be a need for some kind of civic committee to set guidelines for disbursing the funds. Many medical liabilities are caused by life-threatening events. Years ago, when I was told I had colon cancer after a routine colonoscopy, I had every type of body scan imaginable the next day and had surgery the next day. Luckily, I had savings to cover my out-of-pocket expenses. If I had cancer three years later, I might not have had cancer. Medical debt is like spinning a roulette wheel. And like the new coronavirus, no one has immunity.
The status quo must change. Make Minnesota the first state with no health care debt.
Jeff Smedsrud is an advocate for healthcare reform. He has founded and led insurance and finance companies. He serves on several non-profit boards, including his RIP Medical Debt.