By Matt LaBarre, Contributing Writer
Region – Many Americans may find themselves in dire financial straits, with increasing medical bills, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Others may fortunately not become ill from the virus but feel helpless and wish for a way to help those in need. A unique nonprofit, RIP Medical Debt, offers a way for donors to help those who are in financial straits.
RIP Medical Debt, co-founded by Craig Antico and Jerry Ashton, has since 2014, eliminated $1 billion of the medical debt owed by Americans who have been often financially crippled by this kind of debt.
Both Antico and Ashton were previously debt collectors in the medical debt industry, where hospitals and other healthcare professionals pass along debts that they are unable to collect. Those debt portfolios are sold to debt collection companies, usually at pennies on the dollar.
The two had learned about the enormity of the problem, and had decided they were, because of their expertise, to evolve from being part of the problem to helping people who often experience financial ruin from medical debts.
“Then we had to figure out how to do that!” Antico says. “We had no nonprofit experience, and there was no model to follow.”
The organization’s big breakthrough was a report nighttime show host John Oliver presented on his program.
“John Oliver talked about it, and our donations sky-rocketed!” Antico said. Shortly after that, other news outlets such as the New York Times, CBS, The New Yorker, and others, began spotlighting RIP Medical Debt, and donations flowed, along with interest from associations and faith -based organizations that raised funds for RIP Medical Debt.
“We still conduct no outbound fundraising,” Antico said. “People will see a news story about us, and appreciate the extent of this very real crisis for families of all income brackets and demographic groupings around the country, and work with us to create a fundraising campaign.”
For every $10 raised, RIP Medical Debt is able to eliminate about $1,000 in debt through purchasing that debt in the debt market.
“So far, roughly 500,000 families have had their debt eliminated!” Antico continues. “We send the family or individual a yellow envelope, which contains the surprise, the news that their medical debt is gone!”
“This is a random act of kindness,” Antico explains. “Our recipients are selected randomly, sometimes because the association or faith-based organization requests that people in a geographic area receive this assistance, sometimes because the folks raising funds belong to a group, such as the Massachusetts Nurses Association, who raised $15,000 that was used to assist nurses in the state who had this kind of debt, or because the folks raising funds for us were specific to an illness or condition, and people who have that illness or condition.”
But the people at RIP Medical Debt never know specifically who they are assisting, with families and individuals selected without knowing names, and strictly on the basis of data pulled together within the general perimeters.
“We’d encourage anyone, any association, foundation, or faith-based organization to contact us and discuss how they can be of our efforts to eliminate the next billion dollars in debt!” Antico said. “We’re still working with just a small percentage of hospitals and healthcare providers, and really have just begun letting people know about what we do!”
“The coronavirus will, sadly, affect so many individuals and families, and a percentage of those folks will incur medical debt through having to undergo treatments they have no health insurance to cover, and we anticipate an increase in the levels of medical debt throughout this year,” he said. “So we’re looking for more people to join our work!”
For additional information, or to learn more about how to organize a fundraising campaign, visit www.ripmedicaldebt.org.