New York City announced on Monday that it will spend $18 million over three years to wipe out more than $2 billion in medical debt, affecting around half a million New Yorkers. The city will coordinate with RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit that buys up medical debt at a fraction of the cost. The nonprofit targets the debt of people with low incomes and financial hardships, and as of April 2023, it has reportedly relieved more than $8.5 billion of debt for over 5 million Americans” over the last 10 years.
New York City isn’t the first local government to team up with RIP Medical Debt. In 2022, Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago, became the first to team up with the organization, approving $12 million of federal pandemic rescue funds to relieve $1 billion of medical debt for its residents. Since then, local governments in Ohio, New Orleans, Michigan, and Washington, D.C., have followed suit.
The No. 1 cause of bankruptcy filings in the United States is medical issues, whether it be from the cost of care or from missing work due to an illness. A 2022 analysis by NPR and KHN of KFF data found that 100 million Americans struggle with medical debt. And recently published polling from KFF found that around half of all American adults say it is “difficult to afford health care costs,” with a quarter of those polled saying they or someone in their household experienced difficulty paying for health care in the previous 12 months. About half of those polled said “an unexpected medical bill of $500” would put them into debt.
And while RIP Medical Debt’s mission to alleviate outrageous medical debt doesn’t solve the root problem, it is an absolutely necessary way to relieve Americans’ burdens until more progressive policies can be implemented.
Despite a divided government, the Biden administration has tried to ease the burden. One of its biggest victories—in the face of Republican resistance—was getting insulin from Eli Lilly, one of the world’s three largest insulin manufacturers, capped at $35. The administration also made it so that Medicare would negotiate the prices of some prescription drugs. And in September, it announced a plan to ban medical debt from impacting one’s credit report.
These moves are great, of course, but the more we talk about medical debt and health care costs, the more it is apparent that we need universal health care. The crisis may not lead the news every day, what with fascism running on the Republican ticket, but people from all walks of life know it’s the best fix for what is ailing all of us.
Is there anything more iconic in American politics than the whistle-stop tour? Author Edward Segal joins us on this week’s episode of “The Downballot” to discuss his new book unearthing the storied history of campaigning by train. Segal takes us through nearly two centuries of rail campaigns, from early pioneers like Abraham Lincoln to the great popularizer of whistle-stop touring William Jennings Bryan all the way up to “Amtrak Joe” Biden. Along the way, learn how politicians’ trains were actually deployed, lessons for today’s campaigners, and the surprising era Segal identifies as the heyday for these tours.