St. Mary's, RIP Medical Debt Abolish $14M in Debt for 12,000 Patients

Staff Report

Monday, March 20th, 2023

St. Mary’s Health Care System and RIP Medical Debt (RIP), a national non-profit, have reached an agreement that will result in the erasure of $14.03 million worth of non-Medicare/Medicaid medical debt belonging to 12,000 individuals previously served by St. Mary’s.

RIP Medical Debt is a nonprofit that acquires medical debts belonging to people who are financially burdened and then abolishes those debts. RIP then notifies recipients in writing of the financial and emotional relief provided by the abolishment of their medical debt.

Medical debt relief cannot be requested and is source-based, meaning RIP can abolish debts only for past-due accounts belonging to providers like St. Mary’s that are willing to engage with RIP. RIP has two criteria for relief: individual or family income cannot be more than four times the federal poverty level, and/or the individual’s medical debt must be 5 percent or more of that person’s gross annual income.

In 2022, the federal poverty guideline was $13,590 a year for an individual plus $4,720 for each additional family member.

“Working directly with providers like St. Mary’s is an amazing win-win-win scenario,” said RIP Medical Debt President and CEO Allison Sesso. “Our valued hospital partner is compensated for some of the care it provided (without having to sell accounts to a debt collector), patients are relieved of the financial and emotional burden of debt they can’t pay, and communities are uplifted as a result.”

“Our Mission and Core Values call on us to care for the whole person – body, mind and spirit,” said St. Mary’s Interim President and CEO David Spivey. “High levels of medical debt challenge our past patients on all three levels. Partnering with RIP Medical Debt allows us to relieve those patients of their medical debt to St. Mary’s while recovering a portion of that debt to help us continue providing the care our patients and communities need in a responsible and sustainable manner.”

Abolishment details:
• RIP purchased 18,437 past due accounts from St. Mary’s. The accounts belonged to 12,000 individuals and totaled $14.03 million in face value.
• Per RIP’s criteria, these accounts belong to those currently least able to pay.
• The top 10 counties where medical debt is being abolished by this partnership are: Clarke, Franklin, Hart, Stephens, Greene, Madison, Barrow, Jackson, Putnam and Oconee. Debt in these 10 counties accounts for $9.4 million of the total.
• RIP is not a collection agency and will not attempt to recoup any payment from families or individuals. There are no strings attached; the debt for the qualifying accounts is fully abolished.
• This relief does not apply to debt individuals may owe to providers other than St. Mary’s.

Recipients of debt relief will be notified by letter in an envelope from RIP Medical Debt, starting this week. The full roll-out of letters may take a couple of months due to volume of accounts being processed. These letters will include information on the past-due account(s) that qualified for medical debt elimination.

RIP has previously collaborated with other hospitals and healthcare systems, including Ballad Health, Vituity, Children’s Hospital of Alabama, and other healthcare providers.

If anyone wants to support continued debt relief in the Athens area, RIP is hosting a fundraising page for those who are interested.

The state of medical debt in the U.S.
• Unpayable medical debt is the leading cause of bankruptcy.
• Despite over 90% of the country having some form of health insurance, Americans owe over $195 billion in medical debt.
• Half of Americans don’t have $500 for an unexpected medical bill.