Diagnosed as Debt: The Mississippi Crisis

JACKSON, Mississippi (WLBT) – Medical debt is a huge pain that is hurting the pockets and financial progress of the country’s poorest Mississippi patients.

This is an astonishing statistic.

Almost one in five Mississippians has medical debt in collections.

The consequences of non-payment can range from being sued for liens, wage garnishments, to credit problems.

Imagine going to the doctor for medical services, and then the bill comes and you can’t pay it. For many, this is a reality, especially for communities of color.

“Everything is frustrating and I’m trying to get through this,” said a Holmes County resident.

The resident didn’t want to be recognized, but wanted to share his never-ending bout with medical debt.

He has diabetes and has a heart attack that keeps him in doctors’ offices and hospitals.

While the bills keep coming, the money to pay them doesn’t.

To make matters worse, he recently lost his work and insurance.

“I can’t afford the $300 drug bill. Now it’s on my head, on top of me,” the resident said.

His medical debt story is one of thousands in the state.

Magnolia Medical Clinic’s GP Dr Reginald Rigbsy said it was heartbreaking to see people who desperately needed medical care but couldn’t afford it.

“The patient was prescribed medication, or I told him they had to do follow-up lab work and X-rays, and they really couldn’t do it,” Dr. Rigbsy said. “It makes you feel helpless because you know they’re not out of compliance; they just can’t afford it.”

Here’s a look at medical debt in the state’s collections.

According to the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization, 18 percent of Mississippians have medical debt. This is higher than the national average of 14%.

In communities of color, the numbers are even higher compared to the state’s predominantly white communities. About 21 percent of people in communities of color have medical debt, which is $910 in medical debt.

However, 16% of people in predominantly white neighborhoods have medical debt, compared with a typical medical debt of $790.

“Black men, in particular, don’t go to the doctor because they’d rather see their wives, girlfriends, kids being cared for,” Dr. Rigsby said.

“The tricky thing about medical debt is that you get it in tough times,” Redtaff said.

Taff is a financial advisor to New Perspectives. He noted that failing to pay overdue medical bills has serious consequences.

“If you don’t pay your bills, they can go to collections; then the debt collectors can call you and try to get you to pay your medical bills,” Taff said. “It can’t stop you from getting other debts. It can stop you from getting a good mortgage rate or not getting a mortgage at all. It can affect your credit. Anything to be charged is bad for your credit score .”

Taff shares some tips to help ease the burden of medical debt:

  • Get documentation
  • Don’t ignore your medical bills
  • Double-check your fees
  • Check your health insurance policy and make sure your provider has the correct insurance information
  • Start a consultation with your healthcare administrator.
  • Ask the provider/collector for a viable payment plan or lower (make sure to get it in writing so you can have proof)
  • Avoid taking on credit card debt to pay your medical debt
  • Find Financial Aid or Charity Care Programs

This is where the Jackson World Center Church comes in.

Pastor Roderick Richardson and his generous congregation recently paid off an additional $1 million in medical debt for poor and low-income patients they didn’t even know in the state.

He said it was another way of expressing God’s love.

“When I think about debt relief, I think about creating generational freedom,” Pastor Richardson said. “Now, that mother will be able to move to another area. Maybe they will be able to get a credit card or open an account somewhere because they are out of medical debt.

The Church partnered with RIP Medical Debt to achieve this.

The nonprofit uses donated dollars to buy debt from hospital debt collectors to help the community.

Here’s a breakdown of their medical debt cancellations nationwide.

In 2014, RIP raised enough money to forgive more than $6.6 billion in medical debt for more than $3.5 million in households nationwide.

In Mississippi, it cancelled nearly $29 million for more than 24,000 people.

“So many people have been struggling financially, and it’s very important for individuals to get financial help,” said Alison Seto.

Sesso is the Executive Director of RIP Medical Debt.

She said more needs to be done to provide relief to those bearing the high cost of medical care. She suggested expanding Medicaid coverage to provide health care to more than 200,000 people. However, Mississippi is one of only 12 states to reject expansion and federal funding for the program.

“Every state that doesn’t expand Medicaid is leaving federal funding on the table,” Ceso said.

“There’s also an uncompensated pool of care, and hospitals can’t get any payments over $600 million a year,” said Timothy Moore, CEO of the Mississippi Hospital Association.

Moore is a Medicaid expansion advocate.

MHA represents more than 100 hospitals, healthcare systems, networks and care providers.

“States that expanded Medicaid saw a 40% to 50% reduction in unpaid care costs across the state,” Moore said.

I went to the State Capitol to ask Rep. Chris Bell if Medicaid could be expanded in the near future to help the poorest states in the country, especially those struggling with medical debt.

“I recommend that they reach out to lawmakers, especially the governor and your lawmakers, to express the need and importance of expanding Medicaid,” Bell said. “It doesn’t make sense that we have the opportunity to help people who are sick and unable to pay their bills. We have a choice.”

As of July 1, 2022, paid medical collection debts will no longer be included on consumer credit reports.

Additionally, the time period for which unpaid medical collection debts appear on consumer reports will increase from six months to one year, giving consumers more time to work with insurance and/or healthcare providers to resolve the debt before it is reported their debt problems. credit file.

Equifax, Experian and TransUnion will also no longer include medical collection debts of at least $500 or less on their credit reports by the first half of 2023.

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