Recently Town & Country magazine published its annual Top 50 Philanthropists list. A new entrant for 2018 was RIP Medical Debt.
This is an organization we've been writing about for several years. The group gained attention in June 2016 when it became linked to an episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” when Oliver dedicated the show to the debt-buying industry, and claimed to give away $15 million. He accomplished this by purchasing a medical debt portfolio for $60,000 and then had RIP manage the debt forgiveness so that it could be done without tax consequences to the patients.
In December 2016 we published a Q&A addressing questions about the non-profit, how it works, where the money comes from, how it addresses HIPAA requirements, and more.
In June 2017 we wrote about a team of researchers that convened in New York City to study the impact of medical debt forgiveness.
In November 2017 we published this story about a group of Michigan nurses who raised $10,000 to buy and forgive the debts of 500 patients.
Then the local angle started to gain steam. RIP managed to partner with NBC to raise money in local markets across the country to purchase and forgive the medical debts of struggling local residents. In March 2018 we reported about NBC4, the local broadcaster in the Washington, DC market, which reportedly made a $15,000 donation to RIP so it could forgive $1.5 million in debt. NBC7 in San Diego made a similar announcement. Both stations are part of the parent, NBC and Telemundo Owned Television Stations Group, which announced a donation of $150,000.
The organization's latest initiative is RIP Veterans’ Medical Debt Program. They are working to raise enough in donations by the end of 2018 to purchase and abolish $50 million in unpayable veterans and military medical debt in America.
RIP Medical Debt's recognition by Town & Country is well-earned by this organization whose mission couldn't be more timely or relevant.
Some articles about RIP in mainstream media explain that medical debts can be sold for pennies on the dollar, and then collectors attempt to collect the full amount. While this is technically true, what is also true is that the lion’s share of medical debt is not sold. Instead, healthcare providers either attempt to collect it themselves, or engage professional debt collection firms that specialize in working with patients to
- assist in sorting through the bills they have,
- identify possible sources of payment (including insurance, or application for charity care)
- establish settlements and/or payment arrangements in accordance with their client’s policy (the client may be a hospital, a physician, dentist, home health agency, skilled nursing facility, etc.); and
- identify patients who may meet a healthcare provider’s standards for financial aid and work with those patients in applying to any applicable financial assistance programs the caregiver may sponsor.
Legitimate collectors will tell you that they would applaud this effort. As a strategy, especially when working on behalf of non-profit hospital clients, it is important for collectors to help identify patients who do not have the ability to pay outstanding medical bills. Collectors who are able to communicate with patients and/or their responsible parties prefer to focus their efforts on situations where there appears to be an ability to afford to pay. If there is an organization with an ability to resolve “unpayable” medical bills it would seem to be -- all the better for everyone involved – the patients, the healthcare providers, and the collectors.
Congratulations to founders Jerry Ashton and Craig Antico for this well-deserved honor.