KC doctors pay off $1.47M in medical debt
If you get a gold-colored envelope in the mail from a place called “RIP Medical Debt,” don’t throw it away. It’s not junk mail, it’s good news: A group of Kansas City-area doctors has paid your medical bills.
The Midwest Direct Primary Care Alliance announced Monday that it donated about $11,000 to buy $1.47 million worth of medical debt on behalf of 784 patients in Kansas and Missouri.
Allison Edwards, who owns Kansas City Direct Primary Care in Kansas City, Kan., said the doctors don’t know who got their bills paid “and it doesn’t really matter, frankly.”
“In our society, we’ve decided that health care is a commodity and we’re going to have to pay for it in some way or another, and until that changes, we’re going to have to figure out a way to help people,” Edwards said.
The alliance is a group of 21 medical clinics where the doctors don’t take health insurance and instead charge patients a monthly membership fee. Many of the patients are in high-deductible plans, and Edwards said they’re constantly on the lookout for the best prices on things like tests and procedures.
Edwards said 19 doctors and nurse practitioners who work at 15 of the alliance’s clinics in and around Kansas City pooled their money and donated it to RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit based in New York that has been featured on the HBO comedy talk show “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver.
The charity, founded by two former collections industry employees, used the money to buy bundles of unpaid bills from collections agencies and medical providers. They were able to buy them for pennies on the dollar because the debt was 2 or 3 years old.
RIP Medical Debt focuses its efforts on military members and veterans, as well as low-income patients. To qualify, patients must make less than twice the federal poverty limit, have medical debts that outstrip their assets or have medical debts that are more than 5 percent of their annual income.
The organization strongly encourages consumers to keep the letter that arrives in the golden envelope.
“That debt forgiveness letter is your proof the debt has been abolished and is no longer collectable by anyone,” its website says.
Edwards said the idea to donate to RIP Medical Debt came from Ryan Neuhofel, a direct primary care doctor in Lawrence, and he was inspired by the John Oliver segment as well as The Star’s coverage of medical debt.
A story The Star published in June cited an Urban Institute study that showed that in some parts of the Kansas City metro area, about 30 percent of families have medical debt in collections.
“The amount of medical debt that exists within the metro is astounding,” Edwards said. “So it’s a small thing we did, relatively speaking. It sounds big, but there’s millions of dollars in debt, hundreds of millions, within the Kansas City metro area alone that’s just sitting there asking to be paid, and it’s not going to (be paid).”
RIP Medical Debt buys mostly bundled portfolios of medical debt, but it is hoping in the future to help donors pay debts for targeted individuals. Those interested in potentially getting their debts paid can sign up on a private registry on the organization’s website.