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Medical debt being paid off for hundreds of Tennesseans

Posted at 5:23 PM, Apr 15, 2019

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The bills never stop coming for Yvonne Davis, the 59-year-old grandmother of 22 is drowning in so much debt that most days she fears opening her mail for fear of the bills that arrive. That changed over the weekend though when she got a yellow envelope in the mail.

Yvonne is one of more than 600 Tennesseans who had part of her medical debt erased thanks in part because of a NewsChannel 5 community initiative known as “Medical Debt Rescue.”
Inside that yellow envelope was a letter from the non-profit RIP Medical Debt, informing Yvonne that one of her $250 bills had been paid for.

“I saw that yellow envelope, I pulled it out and I was so happy you could’ve knocked me over with a feather!” she said inside her East Nashville home.

While Yvonne still has nearly $20,000 in medical debt, having at least one bill paid for comes as a small relief.

“I now have the opportunity to focus on other bills. It’s hard having all this debt. On payday you have to figure out which bills you’re going to pay and which bills can hold till’ next payday, it’s a struggle,” she said.

With a $15,000 donation, NewsChannel 5 wiped out $1.8 million in medical debt for 604 people across Middle Tennessee. There are no strings attached.

It’s part of NewsChannel 5’s community initiative known as “Medical Debt Rescue." The goal of the project is to shed light on a lopsided medical debt system that has left thousands of Tennesseans with crippling debt and forced many into foreclosure.

NewsChannel 5 had no control over whose debt was paid off. Because of HIPPA laws NewsChannel 5 is not allowed to know the names of those impacted. RIP Medical Debt took our $15,000 donation and purchased debt from debt buyers. The only stipulation is that those people live in Middle Tennessee.

Over time, if you can't pay a hospital they will send that bill to a collection agency. This is happening so often that most hospitals and collection agencies are just happy to get any kind of money. But then something else happens. Collection agencies will try to make money off your debt.

In order to do that, those debt collection agencies will then sell your debt for pennies on the dollar to other debt collectors. To make a profit off the debt, a collection agency only has to collect about 1.5% of the debt. If a collection agency collects $1.5 million for $100 million in debt, that company would essentially come out on top.