RIP Medical Debt surpasses $5B in total forgiven bills, notches its largest corporate contribution to date

Illustration of man cutting himself free from a chain attached to a ball that says "debt"
RIP Medical Debt uses donated funds to purchase and abolish unpaid medical debts for pennies on the dollar. The charity and its partners say that recent donations come at a time with COVID-19 costs threaten to throw more Americans into crippling debt. (Getty/blockberry)

RIP Medical Debt, a charity purchasing and forgiving outstanding healthcare expenses, announced two major milestones within the past week: the abolishment of more than $5 billion in total debts and the receipt of its single largest corporate gift to date.

The former, announced Sept. 16, coincided with announcement that RIP would be expanding its longtime partnership with TransUnion Healthcare, which had contributed its financial data and insights tools to the charity’s efforts.

Going forward, the partners said healthcare providers interested in working with RIP will now be able to more easily implement its model as part of their revenue cycle process.

“Data and insights provided by TransUnion Healthcare have been integral to the success of RIP Medical Debt,” Allison Sesso, RIP Medical Debt’s executive director, said in a statement. “We have jointly helped relieve $5 billion in medical debt and the expansion of our partnership will lead to even more support for those patients in financial need.”

The second milestone, announced Tuesday, is the result of a nearly $2 million contribution from healthcare payment services firm Nomi Health. RIP and Nomi said the money will wipe out over $225 million in unpaid medical debt for more than 176,000 Americans across four states.

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More specifically, the companies said this contribution will abolish over $118 million in debts for nearly 100,000 Florida residents, over $100 million in debts for more than 73,000 Utah residents living in rural and socioeconomically impacted areas, over $5 million in debts for more than 5,500 Colorado residents and almost $75,000 in debts for the entire state of Nebraska.

Mark Newman, founder and CEO of Nomi, noted that his company’s donation comes at a time when insurers are pulling back their coverage of COVID-19 care—putting more Americans at risk of crippling medical debt.

"Addressing the fact that those without means often pay more for healthcare than those with means is precisely why we founded Nomi, and what our more than 2,000 team members work every day to solve,” Newman told Fierce Healthcare in an email statement. “Being RIP Medical Debt's largest corporate donor means Nomi can put an end to harassing collections calls for nearly 200,000 Americans who can now have a fresh start, even while we work to reduce waste in healthcare payments in the long term."

Founded in 2014 by former debt collectors, RIP uses donated funds to purchase medical debts from other buyers and collection agencies. Because their efforts target large volumes of bad debts, the nonprofit claims it is generally able to clear $100 of unpaid bills for each dollar it spends.

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While the majority of its work has been fueled by large donations from philanthropists or corporations, the charity also began working directly with healthcare providers in June when it announced plans to buy $278 million of Ballad Health’s medical debts.

The charity says these types of arrangements serve patients and industry stakeholders alike, as individuals fearing collections often put off necessary care that can escalate future spending.

“Reaching $5 billion of medical debt abolished is an incredible milestone and speaks to the hard work of our team and charitable partners like Nomi,” RIP’s Sesso told Fierce Healthcare in an email statement. “As the delta variant continues to rage through communities across the U.S., the value of alleviating the burden of medical debt has increased. Not only does our work provide tangible economic relief to individuals right now, it eases the very real mental anguish of being in debt and reduces concerns around seeking needed care when someone falls ill, from the virus or otherwise.”

In July, a sampling of debt listings reported to one credit bureau between 2009-20 suggested that these bills now outweigh all other sources of debt combined as the largest contributor to personal debt in the U.S.

Providers such as Community Health Systems have also gotten a bad rap over the years for taking their patients to court over unpaid medical bills. Many hospitals curtailed these practices after facing pressure in the media, according to a recent study, or even went so far as to cancel their decadeslong backlog of court judgments and liens related to patient debt lawsuits.