A Church, TV Station and Newspaper Meet at a Bar…

Medical Debt Hub welcomes this “Debt End” inaugural blog for our site written by Jerry Ashton, co-founder of RIP Medical Debt. This is the first in guest pieces from a variety of activists, academics and healthcare experts. All presented in the spirit of helping Americans to better understand the problems – and promise – of a broken system that desperately needs mending.

Debt End!

by Jerry Ashton, EVP and co-founder of RIP Medical Debt

Jerry Ashton

A church, TV station and newspaper meet at a bar…

Well, let me reword that. They actually raised the bar! This requires a bit more explanation, but be assured that this inaugural blog for Medical Debt Hub will make simple the complexity of how a simple charity I helped to co-found with Craig Antico, RIP Medical Debt has attracted such diverse and amazing attention.

What motivated a national TV network decide to to donate $150,000 to abolish $15,000,000 in medical debt in the viewing areas of their 11 corporate-owned-stations across the country?

What sparked the interest of a mega-church to follow suit and abolish $10,000,000 within a 20-mile radius of its campus?

And, what caused a major newspaper (Dallas Morning News) to decide to write an editorial of praise to bring awareness of RIP’s mission to their state…and possibly the nation?

Better yet, might all of this attention portend a national soul-searching, a reconsidering of medical debt, medical debtors, and the system that created this mess?

NBC Television Universal Takes Note, Then Takes Action

This is kind of a “trickle up” story.

A small, Cox Media northwest Washington television station, KIRO-7 in Seattle, had done over time earlier this year an investigative series on the negative financial impact of medical debt. One reporter, Jesse Jones, grew tired of only talking about the problem and searched out a solution in RIP Medical Debt. With his prompting, the station donated $12,500 to see that $1,000,000 in medical debt would be erased in their area.

The response astounded the station. As of the date of this blog, viewers have chipped in another $47,627.89 so that almost $5,000,000 in medical debt is now in the process of being purchased and forgiven for Seattle area individuals and families.

Alert eyes at NBC Universal caught this story and management decided that this problem deserved national attention. NBC joined with RIP Medical Debt to donate $150,000 to have RIP forgive over $15M in medical debt and divided this amount among the 11 corporate owned stations. Each aired their own investigations and invited viewers to chip in as well.

One station took a BIG bite out of Texas debt.

NBC/DFW began its campaign on February 23 announcing that $2M in medical debt had been forgiven locally. By February 28, viewers donated enough funds to see that an additional $1.6M could be abolished. “Don’t throw away that Yellow Envelope” they pleaded in additional shows in March as more forgiveness notices were sent out.

Over the weeks, recipients began to call in to identify themselves to tell their benefactor and others the impact that this forgiveness had on their lives. A school teacher. A retired couple calls it their “Golden Ticket.” One cancer victim prayed for help-something amazing happens.

As of this date, NBC Universal overall has received more than $238,000 in donations, of which NBCDFW alone has brought in $196,100, including a $100,000 donation from the church below.

Mega-Church Forgoes a Mailing/Forgives $10,000,000 in Texas Debt

It took the personal experience of the cost of medical treatment along with the bible’s teaching of forgiveness that caused pastor Stephen Hayes of the Covenant Church in Carrollton, TX to see to it that $100,000 left the church treasury as a donation to RIP Medical Debt so that over $10,000,000 in medical debt would be lifted off the backs of people within a 20-mile radius of their campus – some 4,400 families in all.

All with no strings and at no cost or obligation, all in keeping with their values. Pastor Hayes felt it appropriate that this announcement took place on Easter Sunday this past month as he reckoned “What we celebrate on Easter, these families will get to celebrate that personally in their home. The bill is finished, it’s been paid, it’s forgiven.”

BreakingChristianNews.com reported the news ecstatically. “With Easter Donation, Dallas-Area Megachurch ‘RIPS’ Up $10 Million in Medical Debt for Local Families.” “Texas Megachurch Pays Off Over $10, Million in Medical Debt for 4,229 Families This Easter,” announced The Christian Post.

The random act of kindness even got an admiring nod from the “Friendly Atheist” site, which headlined: “Texas Church Wipes Out Millions in Medical Debt for Strangers (a la John Oliver)”.

“Hayes donated the church’s $100,000 to RIP Medical Debt (the same group used by Last Week Tonight). Whether the church just ripped the segment from the comedy show or not, it was a wonderful gesture,” the site acknowledged.

Read All About it! These Do-Gooders are Onto Something Good

RIP had a first-ever experience of being the Subject of an Editorial, and it came from the prestigious Dallas Morning News in early April. After pointing out that Texans too easily can experience the misfortune of a chronic ailment to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that medical problems can send families to the brink of bankruptcy, the editor remarked:

“That’s why we were so inspired by news that Covenant Church in Carrollton recently made a $100,000 donation to the nonprofit RIP Medical Debt, which resulted in wiping out $10 million in medical debt for more than 4,000 Dallas-area families, including some veterans.”

“Maybe these good folks are onto something transformative that should be replicated throughout the state…a debt relief nonprofit like RIP isn’t a global solution to all that ails this system, but no doubt the assistance it does provide chips away at the overall problem,” and ended with, “We encourage other local organizations looking for a place to put their charitable dollars to take a look at what RIP Medical Debt is doing to help their neighbors.”

So, that’s the “bar” I talked about earlier. If a national broadcast chain, a Texas megachurch and a major U.S. city newspaper are willing to step in and step it up, I have only this one request of you, the reader.

Care to meet me at the bar?


For more information on the issues surrounding medical debt, please contact RIP Medical Debt.