Reduce medical debt church by church

Editor’s Note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave’s On the Ground Battle Creek series.

Most Sunday services at the 146 United Church of Christ congregations in Michigan, including one in Battle Creek, have included a second collection. The funds are used to pay off medical debts statewide for people the congregation will never meet, said Reverend Diane Baker, senior pastor at Bethel United Church of Christ in Waterford.

The statewide initiative is at the center of a nationwide campaign known as the RIP medical debt which was created to pay off the medical debt of millions of people in the United States.

Baker says the Michigan campaign aims to erase $4 million in medical debt by November. About 10% of this target has been achieved.

“With every dollar collected, it clears $100 of medical debt,” she says. “The goal we have with churches, friends and family is $40,000. Doing the math, if every UCC church in Michigan could raise $275 on average, we could wipe out that $4 million by raising $40,000.

About $3 million of Michigan’s RIP Medical Debt portfolio debt is concentrated in Wayne County, Baker said.

The non-profit debt relief organization was founded in 2014 by two debt collectors, Craig Antico and Jerry Ashton, who saw the potential to help in this way to help people get out of the burden debt.

Over decades in the debt redemption industry, Antico and Ashton have met thousands of Americans struggling with unpaid and unreimbursable medical debt and realized they were uniquely qualified to help those in need. , said an article on their site.

“They used their expertise and compassion to create a unique way to cancel medical debt: they would use donations to buy large batches of medical debt, then cancel that debt without any tax consequences for the donors or recipients. this idea was born RIP Medical Debt, a New York-based 501(C)(3) The results have been dramatic – $2,689,616,823 in medical debt has been eradicated so far, providing financial relief to more than 1,819,000 individuals and families,” the article said.

Baker says his church considered getting involved five years ago and committed to doing so statewide in the spring.

Letters were sent to UCC pastors and Baker spoke to them directly to answer any questions they had. She also asked them to ask their congregations to speak to three friends, family members or businesses to spread the word and increase donations.

Pastor Nate Craddock of First Congregational Church in Battle Creek was among the clergy she contacted. He says he wanted to get involved because he sees the program’s potential to help people in need.

“Essentially it comes down to the mission of the church and one of the important ways is not only that we help people but also that we build communities and coalitions across lines and distances to make things we wouldn’t be able to otherwise. do,” he said. “In our system, we are committed to partnering with other churches in our denomination to do things like this. The driving force here is the ability to put our money where our mouth is and use that accumulated wealth. We are constantly trying to live by Jesus’ instructions to give all you have and help the poor.

For herself, Baker says her church “thought it would be a wonderful way to meet the needs of Michiganders at this time.”

Simple, yet impactful

RIP Medical Debt comes after their representatives have contacted secondary collection sources such as agencies to see if they are willing to work with them.

If individuals are behind in paying their bills for long periods of time, healthcare providers will typically outsource the collection process to collection agencies.

“They can only try to knock on the door for as long as they do and that’s when RIP, and similar organizations, are doing pretty well at this point,” Baker says. “RIP negotiates how much they are going to give on the dollar for the debt and the collection agencies take that amount from them. If RIP says they can pay $100, the collection agencies think that’s better than nothing.

Individuals are notified that their medical debt has been cleared by a letter they receive in a plain yellow envelope. They are also informed of the services that RIP can provide them free of charge to help them restore their credit rating.

According to the RIP website, 66% of all bankruptcies in the United States are related to medical debt, and approximately 23 million people in the United States have an estimated medical debt of $195 billion. Their research also indicates that one in four adults have to choose between paying their medical bills or covering their basic needs and 50% of all adults delay medical care due to the high cost.

Baker says that among people of color and low-income people, the delay in medical care affects six in 10 people.

Due to inequalities in wealth, occupation, income, insurance coverage and access to care, people of color are more likely to have medical debts in collection. This is consistent with research showing that communities of color have higher rates of consumer debt in collections than predominantly white communities, according to a Consumer Financial Bureau Protection report titled “Medical Debt Burden in the United States.”

“Lower wealth and income means people of color are less able to pay unexpected and/or high-balance medical bills: In 2016, the median black household had a net worth of $17,100 and the median Hispanic household had a net worth of $20,765, compared to $171,000 for the median white household,” the report said. “Occupational disparities mean that blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans have less access to workplace health insurance. In 2018, 28% of Native American/Alaska Native adults were uninsured, 22% of Hispanic/Latino adults were uninsured, and 12% of black adults were uninsured, compared to 9% of white adults and 7% of Asian adults. Data from the first half of 2021 suggests that black and Hispanic adults have continued to experience high rates of uninsurance during the pandemic.

While it’s easy to get overwhelmed by these disparities, Baker says there has to be a starting point, which for her is the work of RIP Medical Debt.

“It’s a really wonderful program, especially for the people who are going to benefit from it. There are so many references in scripture to helping the poor and it all fits with our mission,” she says. “It’s love in action.”

Baker says she would like to see other denominations get involved with RIP.

“It’s one way we can have compassion, through our love in action, by talking to our representatives in Congress and being able to identify those systemic factors that keep people from accessing good medical care. and access ways to spread those payments over time or clear their debt,” she says.

“There is a synergy in creating new ideas to solve these very complex problems. How can we address these systemic issues through our relationships and collaboration? As we strengthen our bonds, regardless of denomination and faith, there can be such power for change, knowing that we can make such a big difference for our neighbors.

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John A. Bogar