Forgiving $120 Million In Medical Debt

Former Sen. Bill Bradley interviewed RIP Medical Debt co-founder and CEO Craig Antico on his Sirius XM radio show American Voices.

It’s an excellent conversation and starts at around 12:08. Listen here:

A transcript of the conversation is below:

Bill Bradley: Overwhelmed by medical debt? We’ve all heard the tragic stories about people who needed medical care, only to later get an enormous bill that they could not pay, a bill that was financially devastating. Today we’re talking with Craig Antico, the founder and CEO of RIP Medical Debt, which buys and forgives medical debt. So far they’ve forgiven $120 million in debt, and that’s helped 60,000 Americans. Craig is here with me now. Welcome to American Voices, Craig.

Craig Antico: Thank you, Senator Bradley.

Bill Bradley: What a great idea. How’d you get this idea?

Craig Antico: My partner, Jerry Ashton, and I were in the collection industry, we were turncoats, when a nonprofit group came up to us and had the idea that they would raise $50,000 and abolish a $1 million of medical debt. We said, “We think that’s the stupidest thing we’ve ever heard.” First of all, I think there’s about 50,000 collectors collecting on medical debt.

Bill Bradley: Is that right?

Craig Antico: And $100 billion doesn’t get collected each year. There are $75 billion of medical debt on people’s credit reports right now. And people are one illness away from financial ruin. It’s crazy.

Bill Bradley: What have you learned about how that affects people’s lives? Multiple levels, I’m sure.

Craig Antico: We’ve gotten over 5000 letters from people saying, “I’m in trouble. Could you help us?” There was a lady in St. Louis that was on her death bed. And she tells her next of kin, “I need you to sell this piece of jewelry so that you can pay the hospital for Johnny’s surgery 30 years ago.” Are you kidding me? So it’s on their heads. Right now, we can’t help individuals. We buy portfolios in very large piles because we actually go wherever the donor wants us to go. So a person in St. Louis says, “I want to help the poorest people in St. Louis with their medical debt. Can you buy medical debt for them?” And I’ll go into my platform. Over the four years that we’ve been in business, we’ve put in there $4 billion of medical debt that we have the ability to buy from a hospital, or a doctor, or even a debt collector that owns it. And that donor might give us $15,000, and that might abolish $1 million of debt for the most poor people.

Bill Bradley: How is that? How does $15,000 abolish $1 million in debt?

Craig Antico: Because we’re able to get a steep discount.

Bill Bradley: I would say.

Craig Antico: Very big discount.

Bill Bradley: That’s the biggest discount I’ve ever heard of in my life.

Craig Antico: We use the leverage of the donors, and then that enables us to put leverage on the hospital to say, “Hey. Take this.”

Bill Bradley: You mean, a hospital’s going to take $100 to knock of $10,000?

Craig Antico: Only when we add it together with 1000 accounts, 5000 accounts. They’d never do it if you and I called them up and said, “I have this person here, and I’d like to pay their bill. They owe $1000. Would you take $10?” No, they wouldn’t take $10. They’d say, “The most we’re going to do is cut 50% off this bill. What are you, crazy?”

Bill Bradley: But they can come to you, and you can aggregate that individual with hundreds of others and say, “Look. We’ll pay you 20%.”

Craig Antico: Exactly.

Bill Bradley: The money to do this comes from donors. Is that right?

Craig Antico: 70% of our funding comes from individuals like you and me, averages about $100. It doesn’t come from foundations, doesn’t come from corporations. It comes from people. Some people even give $1 because they know it’s going to abolish $100. But we do get big donors. I mean, I had a donor that gave us $150,000 and he said, “I want to help women, children, and veterans,” so we had women, children, and veterans we abolished for them.

Bill Bradley: How do people qualify? You know, veterans, okay. But there’s a whole range of veterans and women and children.

Craig Antico: We follow what hospitals do, first of all. Hospitals usually have a financial systems program that says, “If you come into the hospital, and you make less than two times the poverty level, we’re not going to charge you for care.” It’s called charity care, and it’s part of their fabric. So what we do is, we add data to each account that we can buy. We find out what their income is. We find out what their assets and liabilities are. Is their net worth a negative net worth? Are they insolvent? And we also find out how much debt and medical debt is on their credit reports. We add that up. If the amount is 5% of their income or more, they qualify. So you could make a good amount of income, but have a tremendous amount of medical debt, you qualify. If you’re underwater, your assets now are worth less than your liabilities, you qualify.

Bill Bradley: Medical debt in excess of 5% of your gross.

Craig Antico: Of your gross income.

Bill Bradley: So you forgive the debt. How have recipients responded? I mean, it’s a little bit like Santa Claus coming. Right?

Craig Antico: Oh my God. I get emails, thank you so much for this. I just read about three of them before I came in. One of them said, “I didn’t know how we were going to pay for this. It was one of our larger bills. My wife got ill. We couldn’t pay. I had to take care of her. I lost my income. And we didn’t know how we were going to get out of this. And when I opened this letter, I thought I was going to find another bill. What the heck was I going to be able to do? Was I going to be able to … ” He said, “Through some trickery, or not getting a prescription, or not doing something, would I be able to do it?” And he said, “And this was one of the larger bills that we had, and we’re so grateful.” I get calls like that all the time and I get emails.

Bill Bradley: The reality is that these are good people out there.

Craig Antico: They are.

Bill Bradley: And then they have a big medical bill. They want the best care. They go to the hospital. And then they get this enormous bill for $50,000, or $40,000, or $20,000, or more. Right? And they don’t know what to do. It’s not like they’re trying to get away from paying it. It’s that they just don’t know how they’re going to pay it. And then you come along. What a wonderful thing you do.

Craig Antico: Oh, God. Thank God for it. I mean, we’re so grateful. And if it wasn’t for the donors, we wouldn’t be able to do this. People are so selfless.

Bill Bradley: Well, tell us about some of the other people you’ve helped.

Craig Antico: One of the biggest groups of people age wise that have bad debt on their credit report is 26 year olds. It’s the most medical debt of any age.

Bill Bradley: 26 years old. They’re not supposed to get sick.

Craig Antico: No, they’re not supposed to get sick. Well, they should get insurance. But let’s just say, a lot of them didn’t have insurance. That’s one of the big things. You just go off your parents health plan. That’s a big time right then. And they’re not prepared. And then something happens. Well, we got a letter with a picture of this young lady, this 26 year old single mother with her two kids, smiling on this letter. And she just said, “God bless you. We were so distraught about the credit report that we had. We had two bad marks on our credit report. And now they’re gone,” because every time we abolish a debt, we remove it from the credit report.

Bill Bradley: That’s amazing. You worked for a collection agency for a lot of years.

Craig Antico: Yes. For 30 years.

Bill Bradley: And now you’re kind of flipped, and you are getting debt forgiven.

Craig Antico: Debt collector to debt forgiver.

Bill Bradley: Yeah. Is there a little different feeling for you in this?

Craig Antico: Oh, sure. I mean, I’ll tell you. When you make 150 to 200 calls to people that really can’t afford to pay, it’s very draining, not only on you, but it is on the people too. You just want to go home.

Bill Bradley: You don’t want to talk to anybody.

Craig Antico: Now I can’t wait to get to work. It is amazing the amount of work. My wife thinks I’m crazy how much work we do.

Bill Bradley: You mean how long you work?

Craig Antico: How much time we work, yeah. I know your work ethic is renowned. I know your work ethic is renowned. Well, my work ethic is renowned and our people are just unbelievable. They just keep going.

Bill Bradley: So, what have you learned about the human experience with this whole story?

Craig Antico: I learned that there is tremendous resiliency. Resiliency among the people that are in trouble. They have a strong faith. They’ve lost a little faith in their fellow man, but when they get a gift of medical debt being abolished, and they know that it came from a donor, they say that it renews their hope in people. That other people care about other people because people call me sometimes and say, “Well, can you forgive my debt?” Guys, this is not about forgiving your debt. This is about forgiving your neighbor’s debt. Eventually maybe it might be yours, if we get this to be big enough. We could actually make all the medical debt regardless of whether it’s a single payer or it’s commercial plan, we could make all the medical debt not have a hardship to it, or a stigma. Or people feel like, they’d feel terrible about this.

It’s hurting their psyche. And we got to stop that. We got to stop the hurt. If we’re not going to stop the cost, which our, the GDP we’re talking about, 18% of our GDP, maybe 10% more than any other country in the world, that’s how much we pay for healthcare. Well, we have to stop the stigma and the hardship. People are losing their home, getting second jobs. 15 million people a year go insolvent. That’s worse than going bankrupt. Because they still have to pay that.

Bill Bradley: And along comes RIP medical debt.

Craig Antico: RIP medical debt. And it’s a funny name because.

Bill Bradley: RIP, or it should it be rip medical debt?

Craig Antico: Well, millennials, and my sons, I have five sons. They call it rip medical debt. People like us, 50 and over, they call it RIP. Rest In Peace medical debt.

Bill Bradley: So is that what it means? I like your son’s idea.

Craig Antico: We have a debt cemetery. That’s what it is. We put it into the debt cemetery. That’s where it goes. Its final resting place. That’s where we came up with the name from.

Bill Bradley: I just salute you so much, Craig, for what you’re doing.

Craig Antico: Thanks.

Bill Bradley: Craig, I’ve never done this before, on this show. I’m going to contribute, personally.

Craig Antico: Oh my gosh.

Bill Bradley: To RIP medical debt. I’ll tell you that right now.

Craig Antico: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Bill Bradley: Craig, thanks for all you do.

Craig Antico: You are so welcome.

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