Los Angeles County Showcases a New and Aggressive Approach to Medical Debt  

By Consumers for Quality Care, on June 12, 2024

Los Angeles County Showcases a New and Aggressive Approach to Medical Debt  

The most populous county in the country, Los Angeles County, is ​​debuting a new approach for handling medical debt, a nearly $3 billion problem in the county, according to KFF Health News.  

The County’s Department of Public Health, led by Director Barbara Ferrer, has been working for over a year to develop and implement an extensive strategy to track consumer debt, analyze hospital collection practices, and increase debt forgiveness. Her goal is to treat medical debt as a public health issue instead of a political issue.  

Director Ferrer recently highlighted the county’s effort at a medical debt summit, saying, “Nobody in the county of LA who is facing economic limitations should have that impact their ability to get the kind of health care, the kinds of services and support that we all need and are essential to optimal well-being.”  

Her new plan would require hospitals to disclose more information that will help the county better understand when consumer debt is sent to collection agencies. In addition, the county is calling on hospitals to better inform low-income consumers about their eligibility for financial assistance.  

County data found that medical debt disproportionately affects people of color, low-income consumers, and families with children. The burden of medical debt also increases the likelihood that consumers will delay critical care, treatment, or prescriptions. These same consumers also often find themselves at risk of losing housing or going without food.  

During the next few months, the county will issue scores for hospitals based on the new criteria. Hospitals will also be provided with templates and guidelines to make the financial assistance process less bureaucratic and confusing. The county has long-term plans to work with providers, helping them provide consumers with better education to avoid surprise bills and out-of-network charges. 

CQC calls on lawmakers, providers, and local leaders to address medical debt in their own communities to help patients avoid the crushing burden of medical debt. We also urge hospitals to better serve their communities by spending more on charity care and financial assistance.