medical debt

Around 1,284 slim, yellow envelopes will arrive in New Yorkers’ mailboxes this holiday season. They represent gifts from two women: the gift of erasing medical debt.

Carolyn Kenyon and Judith Jones of Ithaca, New York heard about the New York-based charity RIP Medical Debt which purchases distressed, past-due medical debt and erases it.

RIP Medical Debt was able to use $12,500 from the women to forgive $1.5 million by buying a portfolio of outstanding medical debts for about half a penny on the dollar.

Jones and Kenyon are part of the Finger Lakes chapter of universal healthcare organization Campaign for New York Heath. Jones told the New York Times that she framed her fundraising for RIP as a short-term solution for the greater problem of egregious medical costs.

In so doing, the women were able to make donations into conversations.

“We tried to get people interested in the seriousness of medical debt,” said Jones, “and lead them to understand that when the New York Health Act passes, that will be the end of medical debt because everyone will be covered.”

Those costs are rising, from prescriptions to hospital stays. Putting charity into an activism context was an ambitious aim for Jones and Kenyon to fight a gargantuan problem.

This is hardly the first high-profile forgiveness campaign for RIP, which was featured in a segment on HBO’s Last Week Tonight in 2016 to forgive medical debts for 9,000 Americans.

“I like doing this much more than I liked doing collecting,” said RIP co-founder and former debt collector Craig Antico.

Antico characterized what RIP does as resolutionary, not revolutionary, a program to help people but one that cannot change the underlying system that creates the problem to begin with — in medical terms, a treatment but not a cure.

“I do like the idea that people do not have to ask for help,” said Antico. “The random act of kindness is kind of a cool thing.”

So far, RIP has forgiven $434 million in past-due medical expenses, which is a fraction of the total $750 billion owed by Americans.

If you want to help give the gift of debt forgiveness this holiday season, join Kenyon and Jones in donating to RIP.


Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.

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