Groups help erase medical debt for 24,000 Arkansans
Editor’s note: the following story was produced by Public News Service in Arkansas and aired on Thursday, February 3. Cross-posted with permission.
By Emily Scott
Philanthropic groups have collaborated to erase more than $35 million in medical debt for Arkansas residents.
Over the last few months, the groups raised money to work with the charity RIP Medical Debt to raise $225,000. RIP Medical Debt purchases debt in large bundled portfolios for a fraction of its face value.
Sarah Kinser, chief program officer of Arkansas Community Foundation – one of the groups that raised funds – said medical debt can cause serious financial stress.
“People who have to service debt that they can’t afford may end up having to choose between feeding their family and repaying that debt,” said Kinser. “And especially as we’ve been in a pandemic and people have had unexpected medical costs. We know that debt burden is especially present on everyone’s minds.”
Some of the groups that helped raise money include Arkansas Asset Funders Network, Arkansas Community Institute, Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and HOPE Credit Union.
Coalition on Human Needs’ Executive Director Deborah Weinstein said while debt relief is a life-changing gesture, it’s not solving the long-term problem. She said health-care provisions in Build Back Better could help.
“What would happen is premium savings that have allowed record numbers of people to get health insurance would be continued instead of having them expire,” said Weinstein. “If that happens, millions of people will lose insurance and they will be that much more subject to debt.”
Diane Standaert – senior vice president for policy and advocacy of HOPE Credit Union – said some policy solutions that can be implemented on state, local and federal levels include increasing consumer protections for debt-collection practices.
“Hospitals or local courts can look at eliminating certain types of debts,” said Standaert. “And this has economic benefits, to make sure people are spending their hard-earned money, rather than having that money just siphoned off into a debt cycle that is nearly impossible to escape.”
In total, the groups were able to erase the debt of nearly 24,000 Arkansans in all 75 counties.