An Interesting Outreach: Medical Debt


I saw this story in daily Today’s Good News email the Our Sunday Visitor editor sends each weekday. I was hooked as soon as I read, “Parish raises $78,000 to forgive $8.1 million in medical debt.” (org source)

“What? How? Is that a thing?” was my first reaction. Then I read a little more into the situation and realized the following process occurs every day:

  • Patient accrues debt at the hospital that they cannot pay because they cannot afford it and/or insurance isn’t covering the procedure.
  • Hospital tries to collect on the outstanding bills.
  • Hospital sells outstanding bills of more than 90 days (or their preferred timeline) to a collection agency for pennies on the dollar.
  • Collection Agency aggressively collects on bills and/or negotiates lower payments with the intention of making a profit from what they paid.

Something I did not realize was the fact that the collection agency does NOT pay the hospital back on the bills it purchases for pennies on the dollar (about $10k per $1 million in debt).

So this organization, RIP Medical Debt, is a non-profit operating in the debt collection agency space that helps donors buy medical debt and forgive it. You read that right, FORGIVE IT.

So this Church in Alabama did a fundraiser with their parishioners to collect donations to purchase medical debt with RIP Medical Debt. They ended up raising $78,000 which purchased them $8.1 million in debt. Then instead of the patients receiving a letter from a collection agency negotiating the debt down; they received a letter saying, “Your debt of $xx has been purchased by CHURCH NAME and forgiven completely via RIP Medical Debt.” (or something that’s worded much better by the company.

How amazing is that?! I mean can you imagine how life changing that would be to someone living in poverty who is struggling with both health and finances?!

Why is this a good idea for Churches to do?

As Gretchen wrote in her column this week:

But imagine if, using our vast networks of dioceses, parishes, schools and communities, we all worked together? Imagine if instead of fighting over health care policy, we helped serve some of the neediest in our communities who were drowning in costs they had accrued simply in the attempt to stay healthy — or alive. In a nation mired by division, isn’t this something we can agree on?


Although “forgiving medical debt” isn’t formally listed in the Corporal Works of Mercy, I think it could help us “clothe the needy, feed the hungry, and give drink to the thirsty” as we help with the financial needs of the members of our community.

A fundraiser could help to raise the money, but this would also be an interesting charity to add to the organizations your parish supports with your annual parish tithe.

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