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Orange County Commissioners tap Covid funds to ease medical debts

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Orange County Commissioners are moving forward with a plan to erase residents' medical debt by using $4.5 million from leftover Covid funding to help residents.

The funding comes from the American Rescue Plan Act, and could allow for thousands of Orange County residents to have their debts cleared.

Speaking at a county commision meeting Tuesday, residents like Ashe Heart, a student experiencing major medical debt, urged commissions to take action.

“I cannot take out any loans for school or other Medical necessities,” Heart said. “I can't take out loans to help pay for medical expenses that my therapist prescribed to me that my insurance company won't pay for.”

Orange County said no date is set for the next discussion of medical debt relief and the processes and details of a medical debt relief program have not yet been determined.

The group Central Florida Jobs with Justice was pushing for almost twice the funding, some 8 and a half million dollars, which would have covered some 300,000 residents.

Orange County would be the first county in Florida to use Covid funding to clear medical debts.

Tara Felten also spoke during public comment, arguing medical debt and basic needs are interconnected.

“We've been told that medical debt relief is a low priority due to focusing on issues like housing and food,” Felten said. “We, of course, agree that residents need to have their basic needs met. But to claim that debt isn't a direct link to a family's ability, or lack of ability to provide for themselves is a grave misunderstanding of the realities of poor and working-class communities.”

Marian is a multimedia journalist at Central Florida Public Media working as a reporter and producer for the 'Are We There Yet?' space podcast.
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