Another holiday, another heartwarming yet depressing reminder that medical debt continues to plague the nation. Specifically, medical debt can debilitate some of the most low-income, at-need people in the United States. Christian Assembly Church, located in Eagle Rock, California, says it paid off more than $5 million in medical debt for low-income families in the Los Angeles area. People whose debt has been paid off will find out by receiving a letter in the mail.
In this case, the church says it worked with the aptly named RIP Medical Debt. RIP Medical Debt is a nonprofit group that essentially helps donors “buy” debt from providers and debt collectors at a lower rate. The idea is that RIP Medical Debt (and groups like it) buy the debt at a much lower cost than if you were paying back your own bills. RIP Medical Debt is a tax-exempt charity, which means that debt forgiveness is counted as a gift, so individuals don’t have to pay taxes on it.
Tom Hughes, one of the co-pastors of the church, says that more than 5,000 households across 28 neighborhoods will benefit from this debt being paid off. The names aren’t publicly available because of privacy laws, as noted by ABC News. “As they recover from their illness, it will help them get back on their feet and avoid homelessness,” Hughes says of relief recipients in the video embedded below.
The church says it collected about $50,000 from members this year. Interestingly, the church says members donated without knowing the funds were going toward this debt relief project. “I would love to be a fly on the wall for someone whose receiving a notification like this,” church member Blythe Hill told local station KABC.
Here is the video announcement.
This isn’t the only religious organization to pay off medical debt, of course. A few months ago, a Chicago-area church went viral for also paying off about $5 million in the local community’s unpaid medical bills. In Indiana, a church paid off close to $8 million for thousands of families. For people who benefit from these acts, there’s no doubt that the relief is absolutely enormous. It probably changes, and perhaps even saves lives. But no one should be in a position where they’re hoping against hope that a local organization can pay off their debt—this debt shouldn't exist, to begin with, and people certainly shouldn’t be harassed and threatened over it, either.
These stories are heartwarming, and the people who make them realities deserve celebration. They’re doing wonderful things within a structure that none of us, as individuals, can rupture. But in the big picture, we need to keep in mind that no one should be losing sleep—or worse—over medical treatment. Imagine a world without medical debt? Without harassment, targeting, and even the shame associated with mounting bills? Now that would be a relief.
In terms of 2020 hopefuls, Sen. Bernie Sanders released a sweeping plan that outlines how he would like to erase $81 billion in medical debt.
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