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NewsChannel 5 begins paying off medical bills for Tennesseans

Posted at 5:56 PM, Sep 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-16 20:01:30-04

LEBANON, Tenn. (WTVF) — Every day 34-year-old Roxanne Ashley is terrified to check the mail, worried about the medical bills she knows she'll find.

"It's like a burden you can't get off your back," she said sitting inside the living room of her Lebanon home.

Ashley is a single mother of a little girl, the family typically lives paycheck to paycheck. A few years ago she needed kidney surgery and ended up with a nearly $3,000 bill for the procedure.

She did not have insurance at the time and is responsible for every penny.

"It's just stressful because you can't pay it," Ashley said.

On Friday though Ashley received a yellow envelope in the mailing from NewsChannel 5, letting her know the remaining $1,900 she owed had been paid off. It was all possible because of a lopsided medical debt system.

With a $20,000 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 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 $15,000 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.

With her debt now gone, Ashley says she can focus on paying other bills.

"It just makes me so happy," Ashley said holding the yellow envelope.

If you receive a yellow enveloped in the mail you can contact Chris Conte directly: 615-945-5350