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Central Ohio hospitals to forgive $335 million in medical debt for thousands of Columbus residents

Four major central Ohio hospitals are working with Columbus City Council to forgive $335 million in unpaid medical debt for Columbus residents over the next several weeks.

Mount Carmel Health System, Nationwide Children's Hospital, The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center and OhioHealth are working through the nonprofit Central Ohio Hospital Council to pay off the debt. Columbus City Council is pitching in with a vote Monday to pay the nonprofit $500,000 to pay for the fees associated with mailing and notifying those who are eligible for forgiveness.

President and CEO of the Central Ohio Hospital Council Jeff Klingler said at a press conference Monday that patients would have had to receive care at one of those four hospitals between 2015 and 2020 and have an income between 200% and 400% of the federal poverty level to be eligible, or between $55,000 and $111,000 for a family of four.

"Our hospitals understand the financial burden that medical bills can place on our patients, and we're committed to providing financial assistance programs that help our patients with their medical bills. Our hospitals have and will continue to care for all central Ohio residents, regardless of their ability to pay," Klingler said.

Patients who are below 200% of the poverty level are already not billed for any medical care they receive.

City officials said this is a first-of-its-kind program for Columbus and could end up impacting an estimated 340,000 people. The city expects patients to be notified that their medical debt has been forgiven over the next several weeks.

"Medical debt is the leading cause of bankruptcy in this country. Families should not have to choose between putting food on the table and accessing needed medical care," City Councilmember Rob Dorans said.

Klingler said with this program, the four hospital systems have provided an estimated $1.3 billion in uncompensated care since 2015.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said the program has the potential to become a national model for other cities and hospitals.

"Over a third of our neighbors are going to receive significant economic help through this partnership and the ability to focus on what's important, the most important, and that is the health and well-being of their families," Ginther said.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.