Medical debt pursuit, or more precisely the endless harassment of patients unable (as opposed to unwilling) to pay their bills has gained increasing prominence as a major social issue.
Among the more egregious practices in the collections industry is the sale of old medical debt – for pennies on the dollar – to bill collectors who will then aggressively pursue this debt at full face value for an additional two to 10 more destructive years. This is regardless of the personal circumstances of people who clearly are still struggling with the economic consequences of illness and accidents.
My co-author Jerry Ashton and I explore this practice in our book The Patient, The Doctor, and the Bill Collector. In this chapter we discuss how our RIP Medical Debt charity, inspired by the debt abolishment work pioneered by Rolling Jubilee, was created to specifically to focus on locating medical debt portfolios, buying them, and then forgiving every last penny.
We know that we are not alone in our concern for those needing medical care but unable to pay the resultant bill and that many people are left with financial stress that can endure longer than the physical harm done by illness or accident. But, we also knew that it was difficult to gain a national awareness.
Thanks to this June 5 airing of the HBO comedy series, Last Week Tonight Show with John Oliver, there are a lot more of us now privy to this collection industry practice and the debt treadmill it creates. In a painfully hilarious (debt as funny? Somehow, yes) piece, John Oliver triumphantly Out-Oprah’s Oprah in giving away valuable gifts.
John Oliver gave away nearly $15,000,000 in medical debt that evening! Oliver and his LWT staff had laboriously located and purchased that debt and then donated it to the RIP Medical Debt charity so that it could be forgiven with great fanfare before a studio audience and millions of viewers. $14+ million. Poof!
Craig Antico, Jerry Ashton and I are pleased and appreciative of an opportunity to be involved with a comedian who wanted to give 9,000 people…the last laugh.
Gratifying, and so very funny.
This post was written by Robert Goff