ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Thousands of Central Floridians are said to be struggling with an overwhelming amount of medical debt following the pandemic, and according to Sam Delgado with Central Florida Jobs With Justice, it sits between 250,000 to 300,000.

However, several people are taking their concerns to the county commissioners on Thursday evening during a budget meeting in hopes of having money allocated to helping Orange County residents eliminate their medical debt. 

What You Need To Know

  • According to Sam Delgado with the Jobs With Justice organization, more than 250,000 people in Orange County have medical debt that’s been sent to collections

  • The County is holding a budget meeting on Thursday at 5 p.m. to agree on county funds allocated from the American Rescue Plan. Although the budget will be finalized during that meeting, Delgado said that there is an opportunity to make amendments to the budget in January.

  • Several Orange County residents struggling to pay their medical debt are planning to attend the budget meeting to ask the county commission to help eliminate medical debt across the county

  • If the funds are not used by the county by December 2024, they will be taken away by the federal government, according to Delgado

One attendee will include Eimear Roy. The Ireland native has lived in Central Florida for several years. Roy said after getting COVID-19 back in 2022, her life drastically changed. Not only did she lose about 40% of her household income when she lost her job, but she also developed long COVID over time.

“I started having a racing heart and palpitations,” said Roy.

Simple things like enjoying a cup of coffee, among other daily tasks, became a thing of the past.

Roy shared that due to her condition, she has difficulty completing activities that cause a lot of stress on her body. For example, walking long distances and strenuous exercise all causes her to get dizzy and has made obtaining a good-paying job yet another worry in her life.

“Right now, because I have to take beta blockers for the first time ever in my life because of long COVID, it limits kind of me going in full time,” she said.

Due to the loss of work and the long COVID diagnosis, Roy said that her medical bills have been piling up: at least $10,000 worth of debt with growing interest.

“I have huge medical debt. I mentioned the long COVID affecting my heart and neurology and most of the tests I’ve been able to get done, but not the whole thing, because we just cannot pay the co-pay,” Roy said.

Roy will be one of a handful of people with outstanding medical debt balances, asking the commissioners of Orange County to allocate funds obligated from the American Rescue Plan to help eliminate their debt. According to Sam Delgado, the program manager for the Jobs with Justice organization, more than 250,000 Orange County residents are in debt and the county has more than $150 million budgeted that could help.

“You know, people are struggling to make the decision of, ‘Do I pay this down and face the financial harms of this debt hanging over my head, or do I feed myself?’” Delgado said.

While Roy shared that she’s not sure what the outcome of the budget meeting will be, she is remaining hopeful that local leaders will do the right thing, sharing how much of an impact having her debt wiped would put her mind at ease.

“What it would mean to me is that I didn’t have housing insecurity and that we didn’t have food insecurity. And I think many families are in the same boat,” she said.

The budget meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening at 5 p.m. Ahead of the meeting, several residents, including Roy, are assembling to share their stories during a press conference. They will also speak directly to the commission during the public comment portion of the meeting.

The press conference begins at 4 p.m. and several state leaders are expected to be there, including Representative Johanna Lopez and Anna Eskamani.