NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — For the better part of a decade Wanda Neal has been dealing with the painful side effects of COPD, most days she can barely breath without the help of an oxygen machine.
The 64-year-old grandmother from Watertown, Tennessee first got sick back in 2011. Since then she has been in and out of the hospital countless times. She currently owes more than $20,000 in medical debt.
"I'm tired of struggling, I'm just tired," she said sitting in a wheelchair inside her home on Friday.
Wanda is on disability and a fixed income. Most of her bills she simply can't pay because she needs the money to buy groceries or pay her mortgage.
This week though Wanda received a yellow envelope in the mail from NewsChannel 5, letting her know that $599 she owed to a debt collector had been paid off. It was all possible because of a lopsided medical debt system.
With a total of $35,000 in donations, $15,000 from NewsChannel 5 and another $20,000 from viewers, NewsChannel 5 has wiped out $4 million in medical debt for more than 1,000 people across Middle Tennessee. There are no strings attached.
"I just dropped to my knees, it was like an angel had given me this gift," she said about the donation.
It’s part of NewsChannel 5’s community initiative known as “Medical Debt Rescue." The goal of the project is to shed light on an unbalanced 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 donation and purchased debt from debt buyers. The only stipulation is that those people must 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 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.
If you receive a yellow enveloped in the mail you can contact Chris Conte directly: 615-945-5350