NBC News: 10,000 in Appalachia will see medical debt forgiven, highlighting national issue

2 min
July 27, 2019

July 27, 2019

By Phil McCausland

More than 10,000 people in Appalachia will sigh with relief this month after two donors from the region helped nonprofit RIP Medical Debt purchase and forgive $10 million of medical debt. But it’s just a drop in the bucket of the $88 billion of medical debt racked up in the United States over the past year.

“We’re going to get their current address and then there’s a special letter that’s going out to each of these people,” said RIP Medical Debt founder Craig Antico, who celebrated the fifth anniversary of the nonprofit Thursday. “It’s from the donors, and it’s going to tell them they’re part of a larger campaign. They’re going to get a letter in a yellow envelope that says this is a no-strings attached gift from people in the community.”

Antico said the $100,000 donation, which buys the $10 million debt for pennies on the dollar, came from two individuals — Jim Branscome, a former journalist who became the managing director of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services, and author and journalist Bill Bishop. The two men approached RIP Medical Debt in May and said they wanted to focus on Central Appalachia with their personal donation.

The 10,000 people affected are sprawled across 70 counties in West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky. The nonprofit is unable to pinpoint individuals, but is able to purchase groups of people’s debt in bulk from the debt market, which they did in this case.

The need in the region prompted RIP Medical Debt to start a new campaign as it identified $240 million of medical debt across the entire Appalachia region as defined by the Appalachian Regional Commission.

“I love the idea that people are abolishing debt in complete regions,” Antico said.