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Akron officials must approve the city's budget this week. Will medical debt relief be included?

A photo of Akron Children's Hospital main campus
Akron Children's Hospital
Akron officials are considering using some of the city's federal COVID-19 relief funds to relieve residents' medical debt.

Akron City Council must approve the city's operating budget by March 31, and some hope a provision to relieve residents’ medical debt will be included.

Councilwoman Nancy Holland proposed a resolution calling for the city to use some of its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to relieve medical debt. She proposed the resolution at the council meeting March 13 and invited medical students and professionals from Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) to share their experiences with the council.

Council passed the proposal unanimously, but Holland had hoped money would be subsequently allocated for the program. She was disappointed by its absence from the current proposed budget.

“It is my sincere hope that the administration is still seriously considering amending the budget to include some degree of commitment to going forward with a medical debt retirement program,” she said.

The next steps are to try to revise the budget this week, Holland said. The city cannot wait to deliver this relief, she added.

“Four in ten Americans carry the burden of medical debt,” she said. “My concern is that if we put it off another year, we allow that burden to continue.”

A person must be at or below four times the poverty level to quality for debt relief under Holland’s proposal. In Akron, that is at or below an income of $111,000 for a family of four.

The city could work with nonprofit RIP Medical Debt, which has worked with other cities on similar projects, for the debt relief program.

Council is also waiting to see if Mayor Dan Horrigan will use his authority over the city’s remaining federal COVID-19 relief funds for the proposal, Holland said. The budget must be passed by March 31.

At the March 13 council meeting, medical students from NEOMED’s chapter of the advocacy group Students for a National Health Program shared stories about the harm of medical debt.

Max Brockwell, a second-year medical student at NEOMED, worked at a skin cancer clinic before he was a student. In that role he met a patient diagnosed with an aggressive form of skin cancer and shared the patient’s reaction to the diagnosis.

“In the face of this serious diagnosis, what really troubled me was, this patient's response was not to ask our team how long they had, what are the treatment options or the side effects, what [is] the prognosis?,” Brockwell said. “His response was sobering: "How am I going to afford to pay for this without my family going into bankruptcy?”

Holland is calling on the city to add her proposal to the budget before the March 31 deadline to secure relief for the community.

“This is a serious problem for real people right now,” she said. “Why would we put it off?”

Council meets Monday at 7 p.m.

Grace Springer is a journalism student at Kent State University. She is the General Assignment Editor for KentWired and covers executive administration for student media.
Alexandra is originally from Northeast Ohio, but that did not stop her from exciting and new adventures. Before interning at Ideastream Public Media, she interned at The Facts in Clute, Texas, in the summer of 2021.