Diagnosed in debt: the Mississippi crisis

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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – Medical debt is a crushing pain that hurts the pockets and financial progress of patients here in Mississippi, the poorest state in the nation.

Here is a staggering statistic.

Nearly 1 in 5 Mississippi residents have medical debt that is in collection.

The consequences of non-payment can range from lien lawsuits, wage garnishments to credit headaches.

Imagine you go to a doctor for a medical service, then a bill comes in and you can’t pay. This is a reality for so many people, especially for communities of color.

“It’s all depressing and I’m trying to get through it,” said a Holmes County resident.

This resident did not want to be identified but wants to share his endless battle with medical debt.

He has diabetes and suffers from a heart condition that keeps him in the doctor’s office and hospital.

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

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

“I can’t afford to pay $300 for medicine. It’s over my head now and it weighs on me,” the resident said.

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

Dr Reginald Rigbsy, a family physician at Magnolia Medical Clinic, says it’s heartbreaking to see people who desperately need medical attention but can’t afford it.

“Prescribe a drug to a patient, or I tell him he needs to do follow-up labs and X-rays that he really can’t do,” Dr. Rigbsy said. “It makes you powerless because you know they’re not non-compliant; they just can’t afford it.

Here is an overview of medical debt in state collections.

According to the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization, 18 percent of Mississippi residents have medical debt in collection. This is more than the national average of 14%.

In communities of color, the number is even higher compared to the state’s predominantly white communities. About 21% of people in communities of color have medical debt in collections, and the medical debt in collections for communities of color is $910.

Yet 16% of people in predominantly white communities have medical debt in collection, and the typical medical debt in collection is $790.

“Particularly with black men, they won’t come to the doctor because they see their wives, or girlfriends, the kids in care instead,” Dr. Rigsby said.

“The tough problem with medical debt is that you get it at a tough time,” Ryder Taff said.

Taff is a financial advisor at New Perspectives. He points out that there are serious consequences for not paying your medical bills late.

“If you don’t pay your bills, they can go to collection; then debt collectors can call you and try to get you to pay that medical bill,” Taff said. “It cannot prevent you from incurring other debts. This can prevent you from getting a good rate on your mortgage or even getting a mortgage. This can affect your credit. Anything that goes to collections is terrible for your credit score.

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

  • Get documentation
  • Don’t ignore your medical bills
  • Check your fees
  • Check your health insurance policy and make sure your provider has your correct insurance information
  • Start negotiating with your healthcare administrator.
  • Ask for a workable payment plan or lower amount from a supplier/collector (be sure to get it in writing so you have proof)
  • Avoid incurring credit card debt to pay your medical debt
  • Look for financial assistance or charitable care programs

This is where Word Center Church in Jackson comes in.

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

He says it’s another way to show God’s love.

“When I thought of debt relief, I thought of creating generational freedom,” said Pastor Richardson. “Now this mother will be able to move to another neighborhood. Maybe they can get a credit card or open an account somewhere because they got relief from that medical debt.

The church partnered with RIP Medical Debt to make this happen.

The nonprofit organization uses donated dollars to buy debt from hospital collectors to help communities.

Here’s a breakdown of the medical debt they’ve written off across the country.

In 2014, RIP raised enough money to write off more than $6.6 billion in medical debt for more than $3.5 million families across the country.

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

“So many people have struggled financially, and getting economic relief is really important for individuals,” Allison Sesso said.

Sesso is the executive director of RIP Medical Debt.

She says much more needs to be done to provide relief to those burdened with expensive medical bills. She suggests expanding Medicaid coverage to provide health care to more than 200,000 people. However, Mississippi is one of 12 states to reject an expansion and federal funds for the program.

“There’s federal money that every state that’s not expanding Medicaid is leaving on the table,” Sesso said.

“Then there is an unpaid care pool for which hospitals receive no payment that exceeds $600 million a year,” said Mississippi Hospital Association CEO Timothy Moore.

Moore is an advocate for Medicaid expansion.

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

“States that have expanded Medicaid have seen a 40 to 50 percent reduction in uncompensated care costs statewide,” Moore said.

I went to the State Capitol to ask Rep. Chris Bell if Medicaid expansion might happen in the near future to help the poorest state in the nation, especially those struggling with debt. medical.

“I would suggest that they reach out to lawmakers, especially the governor as well as your legislator, to express the need and importance of expanding Medicaid,” Bell said. “It makes no sense that we have the ability to help those who are sick and cannot afford to pay their bills. We have an option there.

Effective July 1, 2022, paid medical collection debts will no longer be included in consumer credit reports.

Additionally, the time before an unpaid medical debt appears on a consumer’s report will be reduced from six months to one year, giving consumers more time to work with insurance and/or health care to settle their debt before it is posted to their account. Credit Report.

In the first half of 2023, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion will also no longer include medical collection debts below at least $500 in credit reports.

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