Church buys and cancels medical debt of families in New Mexico and Arizona

August 7, 2021
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Hundreds of households in New Mexico and Arizona recently had their medical debts eliminated, thanks to St. Bede’s Episcopal Church in Santa Fe.

The church worked through a nonprofit organization called RIP Medical Debt that buys up medical debt and then uses donations to pay it off.

“The driving force behind this was our pastor, Rev. Catherine Volland,” said Peg Maish, a spokeswoman for St. Bede’s. “She was really advocating for it. In all, it was about a year and a half in the making, from researching it to making a final decision.”

In total, 234 households in New Mexico and 548 in Arizona had their medical debt paid off. St. Bede’s settled all of the New Mexico debt held by RIP Medical Debt, enabling the church to also reach out to Arizona. St. Bede’s paid off medical debt in Arizona areas with a heavy Native American population. Native American areas are often poor and have many healthcare problems.

St. Bede’s settled all the debt for $15,000, even though the actual debt was $1,380,119. The reason is that RIP Medical Debt purchases the debt for pennies on the dollar.

RIP Medical Debt was founded in 2014 by Craig Antico and Jerry Ashton, two former debt collection executives. The nonprofit organization selects families and individuals whose income is no more than twice the federal poverty level and whose debts exceed their assets. RIP sends a letter to each debtor and contacts credit agencies to inform them that the debt has been paid.

The $15,000 was 30% of St. Bede’s annual budget that it sets aside for outreach purposes. But for Maish, it was worth it.

“We’re changing lives. It was such a perfect match for what we feel we are called to do,” said Maish. “It’s a wonderful feeling that there are people out there who are better off because we were able to help.”

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