CHICAGO (CBS) — Some families in the Chicago area began begging for help in the past few days – a young dad with leukemia, a teacher with breast cancer, and a shooting victim.
CBS 2’s Lauren Victory on Tuesday got to the bottom of a program that promises to clear away thousands in medical debt for a penny on the dollar.
Inside Trinity United Church of Christ, Pastor Otis Moss III reaches 6,000 people a week.
“We are called to stand for those who have their backs against the wall,” Moss said.
On a recent Sunday, he praised God and his own congregants.
Their donations to a Westchester County, New York-based nonprofit called RIP Medical Debt helped strangers pay off bills from ambulances, hospital stays, and medications, and more.
“It is a quiet and silent destroyer of dreams,” Pastor Moss said. “We gathered several other churches and, and we were able to raise roughly about $38,000. That was able to buy about $5.3 million of debt.”
Victory had to figure out how $38,000 turned into more than $5 million worth of bills. So she Skyped with RIP Medical Debt co-founder Craig Antico and got the rough math.
“You just add two zeros to your donation, and that tells you how much your money you can abolish – $1, of course, is $100, and so forth,” Antico said.
He explained medical providers will accept offers from his nonprofit to pay off patients’ expenses if the bills are bundled by the thousands. Many outstanding debts are years old.
“It’s like getting money now instead of getting it later over the next three or four years from people that can’t really afford it,” Antico said. “TransUnion, who is right there in Chicagoland, they give us debt for a very good price and they’re able to help us find the people that need the help.”
One of those people was Dianna Western from downstate Belleville. She was hit by breast cancer, a heart attack, and out-of-pocket expenses.
“Financially, we got strapped,” Western said.
She has health care coverage, but paying the co-insurance for procedures added up – to a total of $1,412.
But then a letter arrived from RIP, telling her the debt was gone.
“You’re like in shock, you know, and you’re happy,” Western said.
RIP is starting to make headlines across the country.
In Collin County, Texas, Elevate Life Church worked with RIP Medical Debt to forgive $2.2 million worth of debt. Grand Rapids Church in Wyoming, Michigan also worked with RIP Medical Debt to forgive almost $2 million for nearly 2,000 families.
Higher Vision Church in Santa Clarita, California joined up with RIP Medical Debt to raise $16,000 and wipe out $1.6 million in medical debt. City Church in Russellville, Arkansas worked with the nonprofit to retire $3 million in medical debt for 1,589 local families.
And it’s not only churches. Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young also canceled more than $1 million medical debt for Atlanta residents with the help of the organization. And in Murchison, Texas, fifth-grade teacher Reagen Adair had $3,100 in debt erased using RIP Medical Debt.
Donors can’t choose specific people to help, but Trinity was able to target Cook County – clearing medical debt for 5,888 families.
“We were going to do blind generosity,” Pastor Moss said.
Antico from RIP Medical Debt said his nonprofit is working to tailor fundraisers for specific ailments like cancer or diabetes.