La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat on Sunday called on Gundersen Health System to forgive medical debt and stop the practice of sending medical debt to collections.
“Our citizens and their families should not be penalized for health care services and medical procedures,” a statement from the mayor said. “They should not have to choose between their health and financial well-being.”
“Medical debt affects our most vulnerable low-income neighbors,” the mayor said. “People who are already making tough decisions between paying rent, buying groceries, child care, and keeping their lights on.”
Gundersen took 326 cases to court in La Crosse County alone in 2018 to recoup $721,000 in medical debt. Thirty-one of those cases involved Gundersen’s own workers, from whom the nonprofit garnished $75,000 in wages. In many instances, Gundersen sued for medical debt of less than $1,000.
“Medical debt in our community leads to additional stress and negative health outcomes,” the mayor added. “Unfortunately, many of our people are afraid to seek health care and medical services because it will mean they must accrue more debt. These either/or choices leaves our community in much worse health overall.”
SEIU, the union which represents Certified Nursing Assistants, cafeteria, janitorial, and other workers at Gundersen, is calling on the organization to stop suing for medical debt, forgive existing debt and provide better insurance to its employees. The mayor agrees with those demands.
“We call on Gundersen Health System to stop taking our community members to collections because of medical debts,” Mayor Kabat said. “We ask them to forgive medical debt and provide better insurance for their own employees to avoid medical debt altogether.”
We have asked Gundersen to respond to the mayor’s statement and will update this story if they do.
*Check back to the La Crosse Independent on Monday for a story on how the Mayo Clinic handles medical debt in La Crosse.
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Email questions to email@example.com. Top image shows protesters at Sunday’s Stand Against Medical Debt event at Poage Park in La Crosse.