Covenant Presbyterian Church has helped 7,175 Central Texas families and individuals to have more than $16 million of their secondary medical debt forgiven.
This was made possible through a $100,000 donation in spring 2020 to RIP Medical Debt, a non-profit organization that purchases medical debt that has gone into collection. This type of debt is sold for pennies on the dollar: a $1 purchase will typically relieve $100 dollars of debt. Instead of collecting on that debt, RIP Medical forgives it. RIP predicted that, through our $100,000 donation, Covenant would be able to eliminate $10 million dollars of medical debt. In reality, our gift went much further.
“When we announced the donation, we expected to pay off $10 million in debt,” Mission Director Whitney Bell said. “It took almost a year to finally use all our funds because the Austin market wasn’t as full of debt as expected. RIP asked if we would be willing to extend our area. Our thought was that we wanted to help Central Texans in need. We expanded our debt forgiveness reach toward the San Antonio region, and that pushed us over $16 million!”
RIP Medical Debt’s Associate Director of Development, Darby Drukker, explained. “Ultimately, the impact ratio depends on the region we are targeting and the debt sources within that region. Sometimes, we can leverage $1 to abolish more than $100.”
RIP uses precise data analytics to pinpoint the medical debt of those most in need of relief: households whose incomes are less than two times the federal poverty designation or are insolvent.
“This money helps the poorest of the poor,” Whitney said. “These are people who have to make decisions whether to pay for their medical bills or pay their rent. Medical debt is never a result of a bad choice; it’s the result of an emergency. And it can haunt folks for a long time. To be able to abolish that points directly to the call of Christ to love our neighbor.”
Each family impacted by the gift receives a letter in the mail telling them they no longer owe the debt, part of which reads: “Covenant Presbyterian Church has paid off the medical debt you have been struggling with the past number of years. No strings attached.”
While quarantine made it difficult to hear from the recipients, Covenant Pastor Thomas Daniel said that the emails he did receive were of disbelief. “’Is it real?’ is the question several recipients have asked,” Thomas said.
“God has allowed us to make a significant impact on thousands of families throughout Central Texas,” Thomas said. “It is humbling to see how our congregation has been able to serve our neighbors in the midst of a global health crisis.”
Due to “the faithful and generous gifts of our members, and good stewardship of committees and staff, Covenant has been able to generate year-end surpluses and help the community around us in new and different ways, like RIP medical debt forgiveness,” Covenant Chief Operating Office Duane Dube said.
Covenant again had a surplus in 2020, and Session again allocated $100,000 to the mission committee. Look for a story next week about how we are using that money to further serve our city.
RIP Medical Debt, started in 2014 by two former debt collectors, eliminated more than $1.7 billion in medical debt for 838,634 people in 2020. The organization also raised $1.1 million to abolish debt for frontline healthcare and essential workers providing care and critical services during the COVID pandemic. Last year, federal regulators approved RIP’s request to buy debt directly from hospitals, which will enable it to abolish greater amounts of debt. RIP’s 2021 goal is to abolish at least $2.5 billion of debt for more than 1.6 million people. Find out more at ripmedicaldebt.org.