• Galena United Methodist Church

Join our Advent fundraiser: RIP Medical Debt Program

Three Galena congregations are banding together to help in the fight against the pandemic of medical debt in this country by raising funds for the RIP Medical Debt program. RIP is a non-profit ministry that buys up medical debt owed by the desperately poor and then forgives it. Those whose debt is forgiven receive a letter telling them that their debt has been waived and that the gift comes with no tax consequences for them. RIP also informs credit agencies of their action so that the credit rating of the recipients may be restored. Because hospitals and individual doctors are reluctant to carry what appears to be unrecoverable debt on their books, they are willing to sell that debt to RIP for pennies on the dollar. Therefore, RIP is able to clear $100 in debt for an average cost of $1, an amazing bang for the buck of its donors.

First Presbyterian, Galena United Methodist, and Grace Episcopal Churches are happy to cohost a fundraising campaign to bring this form of financial parole to our neighbors burdened by medical debt. To be clear, RIP allows donors to choose geographic areas they want to reach or to pinpoint veterans as a a group to be recipients. But beyond that, no restrictions are allowed. Donors are not allowed specify which types of medical procedures could be paid for or anything about the background of the recipients. In addition, people who are struggling with medical bills are not allowed to send in applications to the program. Therefore, the participating churches are unable to assist particular individuals.

RIP was founded in 2014 by a pair of former collection industry executives who decided to use their industry expertise to work to forgive debt rather than collect on it. In just seven years of existence, RIP has already forgiven nearly $5 billion in medical debt. As impressive as that is, it is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the $140 billion in medical debt currently owed by Americans, a debt that is now in the hands of one collection agency or another. Naturally the amount owed by the poor is much higher than that owed by more solvent Americans.

The issue is pervasive. More than one in three Americans struggle to afford the cost of their medical care. As a result, approximately 30% of the poor skip needed medical treatment due to fears over their inability to pay. Others cut back such necessities as food, clothing, heat or housing so they can attempt to pay off their medical bills. Still others take on extra work or an additional job or use up most or all of their savings.

Medical debt lingers on a person’s credit report and negatively impacts their ability to purchase or rent a home, buy a vehicle, secure a loan, or even gain employment. So it will come as no surprise that medical debt contributes to two-thirds of all bankruptcies in this country, according to the American Journal of Public Health. Three-fourths of those bankruptcies were granted to people who had medical insurance, but their coverage was inadequate to their need. With such high rates of indebtedness, RIP has to be selective in searching for potential recipients.

Therefore, they use the following guidelines: Those chosen must earn less than two times the federal poverty level within their state, they must have out-of-pocket expenses equal to 5% or more of their annual income, and their combined debts must be greater than their assets. Give those dire qualifying circumstances and the fact that potential recipients cannot apply for assistance, RIP grants appear as a lightning bolt of hope out of the blue, but one that takes the form of a yellow envelope arriving unexpectedly in the mail. As one recipient put it, “l would like to express my gratitude to your organization. l was going through the worst year of my life and when this letter showed up I found a little hope through the darkness. This hope raised me up. Thank you. l cannot express my gratitude. God Bless.”

The three Galena congregations involved in this fundraising effort invite any interested members of the public to join them in this effort by giving a tax-deductible donation through any of the churches. First Presbyterian Church is located at 106 N. Bench Street. Their website is www.firstpresgalena.org. Galena United Methodist Church is located at 125 S. Bench Street. Website: www.galenaumc.org Grace Episcopal Church is located at 107 S Prospect Street. Website: www.gracegalena.org. For more information about RIP Medical Debt, go to ripmedicaldebt.org.

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