First Congregational Church aims to help alleviate medical debt

The scene is all too familiar to many Americans: an envelope in the mail from the hospital, a sense of dread, a sudden shock at the price you are being asked to pay for medical treatment that saved your life. life.

The Reverend Josh Fitterling, pastor of First Congregational Church in Worcester, remembers his family’s experience with medical debt well.

“When I was a child, around the age of 10, my mother had fallen ill and was in the hospital for life-threatening reasons. This was at a time when our family could not afford health insurance” , Fitterling said. “I don’t remember all the details because I was still a kid, but what I do remember is that my family got this bill for over $100,000, and the fear and panic about whether we were going to lose our family home, which was our farm and our livelihood.

With that memory in mind, Fitterling and FCC Worcester will partner with the non-profit organization RIP Medical Debt to write off medical debt for individuals in Worcester County and Massachusetts.

The goal of FCC Worcester’s fundraising efforts will be to raise $5,000 to pay off $50,000 in medical debt.

“I think we all know that medical debt affects a lot of people, but some statistics make you think,” Fitterling said. “When something affects so many people, and medical debt is rarely taken on by choice, it seems so important.”

FCC Worcester is currently accepting donations for RIP Medical Debt and planning the Christmas of Caring fundraiser for December 11, which will include a Christmas carol and a chance auction. According to Fitterling, the church will also donate money from its Christmas Eve service collection to RIP Medical Debt this year.

According to Daniel Lempert, vice president of communications at RIP Medical Debt, the organization is a New York-based nonprofit that uses donations to buy and then cancel medical debt across the United States. It was founded in 2014 by two former debt collectors who chose to use their knowledge of the industry to cancel rather than collect debts from individuals.

Lempert said the nonprofit primarily buys debt in bulk on the secondary debt market, paying about $1 for every $100 of debt. Individuals and families whose debts have been redeemed by the association receive letters informing them that they no longer owe any money for their medical treatment.

“About a third of hospitals in this country will sell their medical debt, and a hospital might try to pursue a debt, but individuals might not be able to pay, and hospitals might not have the resources to collect,” Lempert said. “Instead, they’ll bundle them up in big wallets and send them to a debt collector for pennies on the dollar, and those debt collectors will come after it at full price.” We acquire medical debt on the secondary debt market.

Lempert said RIP Medical Debt tracks which counties and states have the most medical debt based on mailing addresses attached to individual debt and credit records. He said that due to state laws, Massachusetts, including Worcester County, has a medical debt rate well below the national average.

According to Fitterling, he chose to work with RIP Medical Debt because the United Church of Christ, which includes FCC Worcester, has already partnered with the charity nationally. In addition, he said that as a minister he believed that the elimination of medical debt had special Christian significance.

“There are a lot of biblical stories around healing, and often those with medical debt experience their own kind of healing, but now have this added burden,” Fitterling said. “When I think about the importance of healing in general, especially in the biblical context, it was meant to be something that liberated, not something that put another burden on you.”

Although Fitterling believes the national medical system needs financial reform, he said he sees the work of RIP Medical Debt and FCC Worcester’s upcoming fundraiser as a good place to start.

“It’s a band-aid on a much bigger conversation that needs to take place. Why does our medical system allow people to end up in so much debt?” Fitterling said. more important to do, and yet, at the same time, as this work unfolds, hopefully this is just one way we can help ease some of this burden for those in need.”

Jerry B. Hatch