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  • Writer's pictureWishesErin

Clean Bills of Health

Millions of Americans are buried in medical debt. Our friends at RIP Medical Debt are helping them dig out.

Last year I had the wonderful opportunity to be connected to Col. (Retired) Mikel Burroughs through Jerry Ashton. Since then, Mikel and his whole team at Victory for Veterans have gone on to be trusted and valued partners of Wellness Wishes.

What many don't know is that Mikel is also a VP for RIP Medical Debt where he oversees healthcare debt repayment for not just civilians but for military personnel and veterans as well. In light of the recent events, RIP just added a newly formed division that will allow for repayment of medical debt for our nation's heroes and frontline workers.

We're proud to work alongside Mikel in every capacity. His efforts at RIP (and Victory for Veterans) are a perfect compliment to Wellness Wishes' Economic Assistance Project and Community Response Fund - both of which identify and recover lost healthcare revenue, returning money to communities where it's deserved. In funding organizations, philanthropy and communities, there's beautify synergy in being able to abolish medical debt along the way.

For more information on how your healthcare organization can recover lost revenue, how you can fund community enrichment projects, or generate funds for your non-profit or philanthropy movement, contact us today. In the meantime, check out this great article about RIP Medical Debt in April's issue of Oprah's Magazine.


On a Sunday morning in Detroit in the fall of 2018, Kyra Taylor, 31 was attending church with her 4-year old son. As the praise band finished their performance, she glanced at her phone, saw that a debt collector was calling, and fell into despair.

Over the years, Taylor, who was diagnosed with diabetes when she was 10, had often risked her health by taking a lower-than prescribed dose of insulin to save money. But despite cutting corners, she'd accrued nearly $3,500 in medical bills that she couldn't afford. By the time she started filing for bankruptcy, collection officers were phoning her daily, and one agency had taken her to court.

But six months after that call, Taylor came home from her full-time customer service job to find a letter from Vineyard church of Ann Arbor, which she had never heard of. It stated that, with help from the non-profit RIP Medical Debt, the church had paid off the entire $3,500 she owed. She was skeptical, but her mother encouraged her to send a thank you email. Five days later, an RIP spokesperson responded, confirming that she was indeed now debt-free. "The pressure to pay those bills stressed me out so much that it was straining my relationship with my mom and distracting me from my son," says Taylor. "When I understood it was real, I just cried."

Here's what happens if you, like Taylor and 80 million other Americans, can't afford your medical bills: Let's say you had a $5,000 insurance procedure, your insurance covered $3,000, and you now owe the hospital $2,000. If you don't pay, the hospital may assign your debt to a third-party collection agency that will pursue the money aggressively. If you come up with it, the collection agency will earn a commission, usually around 25 percent. But if after a couple of months you still can't pay, the account is returned to the hospital. And since healthcare providers don't have the resources to keep up with all the unpaid bills, debt buyers can purchase outstanding balances (after about six months) for a fraction of the sum, then hound you, the patient, for the full amount.

That's where Craig Antico and Jerry Ashton come in. Former collection executives themselves, they were inspired by the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement to found RIP and use their industry smarts to negotiate the purchase of accounts from debt buyers and healthcare providers, on average paying less than 1 percent of the total owed. (In Taylor's case, it took only $35 to wipe out her $3,500 debt.) They then have the right to go after that money, but choose not to.

When RIP launched in 2014, Antico and Ashton sat in Ashton's living room and pledged to abolish $1 billion in medical debt. "We called it an audacious, hairy goal," Antico says, "but we knew we could do it." They raised only $2,800 their first year, primarily from friends and family, and didn't pay themselves a salary for two and a half years. But a 2016 shout-out on HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver - in which Oliver revealed that with just $60,000 and assistance from RIP, he forgave close to $15 million in debt for nearly 9,000 people in North Texas - kicked things into high gear, and donations started pouring in.

RIP's efforts provide more than just financial relief. In a recent study by the American Cancer Society, 47 percent of 18- to 64-year olds and 28 percent of people 65 or older reported psychological hardship, such as stress and anxiety, because of medical expenses. Another study, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, linked higher debt with increased depression and poorer overall health.

Last year with help from their supporters, including more than 100 churches, Antico and Ashton reached their $1 billion goal. Now they're on track to eliminate another $1 billion in 2020 alone. "There's great power in the fact that this is all about forgiveness," says Rev. Beth Maynard, the rector at Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church in Champaign, Illinois, which last year raised $15,000 that cleared nearly $4 million of debt for 3,617 of her state's residents. "We all need it, and we all need to bestow it."

Lowry, Mary Pauline (2020, April) Clean Bills of Health . Oprah Magazine. April 2020 issue, page 56.


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