Cook County erases nearly $80M in medical debt for thousands of residents

Thousands of Cook County residents are finding surprise letters in their mailboxes announcing that their medical debt has been paid.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced Wednesday that nearly $80 million worth of past-due bills have been wiped out through the county's Medical Debt Relief Initiative.

"This will benefit over 72,000 Cook County families with many more to come," Preckwinkle said.

In July, the Cook County Board approved Preckwinkle’s proposal to spend $12 million of the county's American Rescue Plan funds for the program.


Contracting the nonprofit RIP Medical Debt, that $12 million is expected to pay off close to $1 billion of medical debt.

Notices began hitting mailboxes this past February with more expected to reach homes in the coming weeks.

How does this program work?

RIP purchases your debt directly from participating hospitals, pennies on the dollar, much like debt collectors. But instead of sending you a new bill, they wipe the slate, giving families a boost towards financial freedom.

"The majority of the people did have insurance, so I do think that's an important element to highlight because it shows that the medical debt problem is not just an uninsured issued, but an underinsured issue," said Allison Sesso, president and CEO of RIP Medical Debt.

"There are 100 million adults with medical debt, totaling $195 billion. In Cook County alone, over 14% of households have some form of medical debt," Preckwinkle said.

Eligible recipients have incomes of up to 400% of federal poverty guidelines, about $55,000 for an individual, or have medical debt that is 5% or more of their estimated household annual income.

You cannot apply for the Cook County Medical Debt Relief Initiative, but are referred through participating hospitals.

The program runs through the end of next year.

Chicago Lawn and Marquette Park had the most medical debt erased with over $14 million.