Claire Elyse LaRoche had “excellent insurance” last year.
But when LaRoche, who has a congenital heart defect began having other health issues last year, she found herself responsible for paying the majority of the tab for nearly-weekly appointments and tests with specialists that cost thousands of dollars.
LaRoche, 28, has whittled down her medical debt to about $2,500 since then, but has relied on family members and credit cards to foot the bills.
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“I graduated (from college) in a recession … They really hound you. I just got sick of the calls and ended up charging it,” said LaRoche, who works part-time at a national health nonprofit and runs a marketing and events blog.
LaRoche said she has new insurance this year that isn’t as great, and she “thinks twice about going to doctors” and often waits to see if symptoms go away before booking an appointment.
“I really don’t want to take on any additional debt,” LaRoche said.
Last year 64 million Americans had difficulty paying their medical debt, according to a report by the Commonwealth Fund, down from 75 million in 2012 and 73 million in 2010.
Jerry Ashton and Craig Antico think they can put a dent in America’s medical debt crisis, and want to help those who really need to pay their bills, no strings attached.
At face value, Ashton and Antico are perhaps unlikely advocates for those who owe medical bills. They have decades of experience as medical debt collectors.
They recently launched RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit, and accompanying initial crowdfunding campaign to raise $74,500 to purchase and absolve strangers’ medical debt.
The goal for the first year is to raise $14 million, purchase $1 billion of medical debt and abolish it. They get more bang for their buck because debt collectors can buy medical debt for a fraction of the price, then aggressively going after the person who owes it for the total amount.
“What is it about me and Craig that makes us perverse in our industry?” Ashton jokes, adding they aren’t invited to many collections conferences any more. “We want to go in there and we want to buy that debt for pennies on the dollar, the difference is when we get that debt, we then put a stake through its heart.”
The organizers are looking to purchase debt in the greater New York City area and another region of the U.S., yet to be revealed, where medical debt numbers flourish. They believe they are the only organization in the world specifically dedicated to eradicating medical debt.
Ashton recently scrolled through social media messages in the living room of his apartment near Gramercy Park, sharing stories he’s gleaned from strangers.
Dorothy from Baton Rouge confided she was evicted after she had to skip a rent payment to get a CT scan. Jane from North Carolina said she’s waiting until she turns 65 to seek necessary surgeries for diabetes, and treatment for debilitating anxiety and depression.
“If a person can pay, we don’t want to buy it (debt) and forgive it. If people can’t pay we want to buy it and forgive it,” Antico said. “People are people, and people want to help other people, and that’s what’s important. it’s not rich people helping poor people, it’s people helping people, and that’s what makes it go around.”