The Real Birthday Present I Want is Debt Forgiveness

By Jerry Ashton, co-Founder of RIP Medical Debt.

It’s My Birthday. I am 83 Years Old. Thanks to COVID-19, I’ve Got a Problem with That.

Let me be clear. My problem is not in having a birthday, nor being an octogenarian. My problem is with the coronavirus and all that it means to the future of the charity I helped found, and what it means to the recipients of that charity — Americans burdened by unpaid and unpayable medical debt that cries out for forgiveness.

If we at RIP Medical Debt felt we were challenged in our mission of forgiving medical debt before COVID-19, I shudder to think about the tsunami of impossible-to-pay healthcare bills being generated by this healthcare crisis over the coming months and years. I shudder to think how a dozen charities like ours can be funded to make a dent in that looming problem.

As the citizens of this country are coming to understand, most of us are only one accident or illness away from financial destruction. COVID-19 is that singular illness.

There isn’t a commercial insurance policy in existence at any price that will protect us. Given co-pays and deductibles, denials, “out-of-network” surprise bills, astronomical drug prices and a hospital billing and pricing system that seems to come from another dimension, something needs to change. Dramatically.

Understand that our RIP charity likely will not be available to the victims of COVID-19 until months or years from now when these unlucky ones enter into what I call a debt collections “Chain of Pain.”

The chain begins when you are unable to pay that hospital bill. It continues as you are subjected to medical providers’ internal demands for payments, then it accelerates with the stronger and more urgent external demands made by collection agencies. Finally, your account is sold for pennies to a commercial debt buyer allowed by law to pursue that account for the full amount owed.

When the debt buyer has worked your account for months and failed to collect, that’s when RIP finally comes into the picture. This is when we are able to negotiate and purchase those “distressed accounts” for a penny on the dollar and forgive those debts on behalf of our donors.

I’ve got a problem with the fact we at RIP have to wait so long — too long — to finally come to the financial rescue of a person or family.

Hopeful signs

Even before COVID-19, RIP has been in a positive dialogue with hospital administrators, exploring ways that we (along with our data partner TransUnion) might directly  buy or accept as donations the unpaid medical debt sitting on hospitals’ books.

This is the individual debt that our data analytics determine will fall into one or more of three categories: (1) being two times the poverty level; (3) insolvent, or (3) in hardship. This debt  has been weighing on their minds. This debt  has been causing them to choose between putting food on the table, cutting their medication in half or meeting the demands of a bill collector.
This debt has been causing them, out of pride or shame, not to return to that hospital for necessary medical care.

We cannot have unpayable medical debt stand between a family and receiving healthcare, not at this time nor any time. Our donors and supporters at RIP are demanding that we purchase such debt earlier in the chain of pain, so we can more quickly remove  black marks on credit reports and put people back on a more solid footing.

I would like you to join their ranks.

So, on my birthday today, allow me to request of all of my friends not just send me salutary greetings (nice), but to choose instead (much better)  to visit our website and make a donation as well as buy our book, End Medical Debt, and for a modest sum and by that purchase actually abolish $500 of someone’s debt.

I would not have a problem with that.

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