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December 12, 2018

How 2 New York women just wiped out the medical debt of 1,284 people

Daily Briefing

    When Judith Jones and Carolyn Kenyon, both of Ithaca, New York, learned about R.I.P. Medical Debt—an organization that buys and forgives past-due medical debt—they wanted to help, so the pair started a campaign and raised funds needed to forgive $1.5 million in medical debt.

    How they raised the money

    Jones, a former chemist, and Kenyon, a psychoanalyst, first heard about R.I.P Medical Debt last spring. Moved by the project, the two women, who are members of the Finger Lakes chapter of the Campaign for New York Health, dedicated their summer to fundraising. Jones said they explained to prospective donors that the money was a short-term fix for a broader problem affecting the health care industry: surging medical costs.

    All told, Jones and Kenyon raised $12,500, which they sent to R.I.P. Medical Debt.

    The organization used the money to purchase a portfolio of medical debts worth $1.5 million for about half a cent on the dollar. As a result, 1,284 individuals across 40 New York counties had their medical debt forgiven.

    How medical debt charities are forgiving millions of dollars of debt

    R.I.P. Medical Debt aims to help people who earn less than two times the federal poverty level or face general financial difficulty because of medical debt. Usually, the medical bills purchased have passed through collection agencies for months—sometimes years.

    R.I.P Medical Debt executive, Craig Antico—who's a former debt collection industry executive—said the charity's contribution is a "drop in the bucket," compared to the $750 billion in medical debt that currently burdens Americans and called the charity's efforts "resolutionary, not ... revolutionary," as it cannot prevent the accrual of medical debt.

    But, Antico said medical debt charities still help reduce the wallet-breaking impact of medical debt. "I do like the idea that people do not have to ask for help," Antico said. "The random act of kindness thing is kind of a cool thing" (Cheney, New York Times, 12/5; Baker, "Vitals," Axios 12/6).

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