Nearly $15 million in unpaid bills for ambulance service are likely to be written off by Richland County as uncollectible, cleaning up the county’s books and freeing up resources to pursue collection of newer debts.
County Council is likely to approve the one-time write-off of Emergency Medical Services debts to the county that are 10 years old or older and have not had any payments made toward them.
It’s the first time the county has written off EMS debt, county spokeswoman Beverly Harris said.
Many of the more than 21,000 bills that will be forgiven belong to indigent individuals who do not have any assets to pay the bills or to people from out of state who were treated here and then left, said Greg Pearce, chairman of the council’s Administration and Finance Committee that last month made a unanimous recommendation that council approve the write-off.
“We would not have brought the debt to you to be written off had we had even any remote possibility of collecting it,” Pearce said. “There are how many people in this world that just don’t have anything? ... If they don’t have the money, you just can’t collect it.”
Ambulance service, in general, is a money-loser for the county, Pearce said, evidenced by of the massive unpaid debt that has accrued.
A third-party collection agency tracks down those owing unpaid debts, Pearce said. And writing off the older bills that are, at this point, impossible to collect frees up resources to pursue more likely collections, he said.
The average bill being written off amounts to about $700.
For many indigent people who receive ambulance services, paying their debts could amount to a choice between their medical bills and, perhaps, a place to live, Harris said.
The debt write-off is a one-time deal, and council would have to approve it again if it something like it were to happen in the future. The county has never done a write-off for EMS debt before, according to county clerk and administration and finance records, Harris said.
A debt write-off is not an ideal solution to uncollected debts, Pearce said, because it amounts to uncollected revenue for the county. But, he said, it just makes business sense.
“We just can’t continue to carry that debt forever,” Pearce said.