Cashing in on patient debt

Cashing in on patient debt

An estimated 100 million people are saddled with medical debt in America. Of those, about 50 million people – or 1 in 5 adults – are on a financing plan to pay it off. As medical debt has sored, hospitals are increasingly contracting with private financing companies, including profit-driven private equity firms, to collect from their patients. These arrangements are proving harmful to patients and their families, trapping people in confusing and often costly repayment plans at a time when they are most vulnerable. Noam N. Levey and Aneri Pattani of Kaiser Health News report: 

UNC Health, which as a public university system touts its commitment “to serve the people of North Carolina,” had long offered payment plans without interest. And when AccessOne took over the loans in September 2019, most patients were in no-interest plans. That has steadily shifted as new patients enrolled in one of AccessOne’s plans, several of which have variable interest rates that now charge 13%. In February 2020, records show, just 9% of UNC patients in an AccessOne plan were in a loan with the highest interest rate. Two years later, 46% were in such a plan. (…) “I see wealthier families benefiting,” said one former AccessOne employee, who asked not to be identified because she still works in the financing industry. “Lower-income families that have hardship are likely to end up with a higher overall balance due to the interest.”

Officials request early release for juvenile offenders
The Office of Juvenile Justice has asked judges to release low-risk teen offenders early to alleviate overcrowding and improve safety at its facilities. Years of scant funding and political failures has driven Louisiana’s juvenile justice system to a crisis point. The last two months alone have been marred by Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision to move children to the maximum security prison at Angola and allegations made in a New York Times report about the horrors at Ware Youth Center in Coushatta. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue reports

“What our data shows us is that we have some children who should not be in OJJ’s custody,” he (Office of Juvenile Justice Assistant Secretary Curtis Nelson) said. “So we looked at our numbers, we looked at our data, and we were really disturbed with what we found. I have children that have been in my care, in my custody, for three years for a nonviolent offense.” … “Angola should be a wake-up call to the entire state of Louisiana,” Nelson said of the new juvenile justice facility he helped open at the adult prison. “So what happened in our state that that became an option?”

An administrator of the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice sent a letter to Louisiana officials earlier this week telling them that juvenile offenders being housed at Angola should be removed immediately. 

A Sputnik moment for education
American students suffered historic learning losses during the pandemic, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The scores on the nation’s report card showed that American students’ test scores regressed to levels from two decades ago. It also showed a sharp increase in longstanding inequities in education. As the Washington Post’s Dan Goldhaber, Thomas J. Kane, Andrew McEachin and Emily Morton explain, our current education crisis will require a Sputnik moment from our leaders. 

When President John F. Kennedy issued his moon challenge, NASA’s rocket designers calculated the thrust they would need to send a spacecraft to the moon and soon realized that they would need something far larger than anything they’d built before. The result was the Saturn V rocket. Today, school district leaders are responsible for reversing learning loss of a magnitude none of them have ever experienced. And they have been given little guidance about what an adequate response might look like. No wonder many system leaders have been launching the equivalents of bottle rockets: an increase in summer school enrollment or tutors for a few more students. Communities will need to think bigger and bolder to plan a package of interventions sized to the challenge.

The best part of waking up is not paying your taxes
The New Orleans City Council voted last year to reject six property tax breaks sought by Folgers Coffee Company worth a combined $12 million over ten years. Changes enacted by Gov. John Bel Edwards gives local governments the authority to approve or deny applications like these to the state’s lucrative Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP). Now that their tax bill is due, Folgers wants the courts to throw it out. Louisiana Illuminator’s Wesley Muller has the story: 

Following standard practice at the time, [Orleans Parish Assessor Erroll] Williams kept the properties off the tax rolls while the (ITEP) applications were pending. Initial estimates put Folgers’ tax bill at about $12 million. Williams added the properties back on the rolls in March at a value of less than half that amount. The reduction came after Folgers changed the amount of investments the company claimed it made in its property upgrades from $161.8 million to just $77.4 million. “Homeowners and small businesses have to pay their taxes and so should Folgers,” City Council President Helena Moreno said in a press release. “The law and the votes have been clear: they owe these taxes that pay for essential city services like public safety and infrastructure. No one should be exempt from the law.”

We’re hiring: The Louisiana Budget Project is seeking a Policy Analyst to work on state and federal policy issues that affect low-income Louisianans, with a focus on budget and tax issues. Click here to learn more and apply.

Number of the Day
47.1% – Percentage of students from 2004 and 2020 that enrolled at another institution after their colleges closed. Most students, 78%, experienced closures at for-profit institutions. (State Higher Education Executive Officers Association via the Louisiana Illuminator)