A Holiday Call to “Prevent and Forgive” $20M in Unpaid Medical Debt

12/18/2017 04:23 pm ET

A Yuletide, Industry-Wide Webinar!

Self-insurers and healthcare purchasers are teaming up with medicine’s leading thought leaders and advocates to forgive $20 million in medical debt – and more, as others join in.

The National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions is broadcasting a special webinar taking place tomorrow, December 19, which will call on its members and others tuning in to “join a campaign to end medical debt, now and in the future!”

The webinar will feature Dr. Rishi Manchanda of HealthBegins and California’s “Campaign to End Medical Debt” and members of that project. These organizations are making it their holiday purpose to enroll America’s leading employers to help them forgive $20 million in medical debt while at the same time educating everyone about ways to reduce or prevent medical debt at its very start.

A Uniquely American Crisis

The U.S. is facing “bookends” of billions of dollars lost from poor medical use and access at the front end, and the resultant billions of dollars that end up uncollected and in the hands of the bill collector at the back end.

Some 41 million adults were contacted by a collection agency for an unpaid medical bill in 2012. At least 53% of uninsured Americans report problems paying those bills in 2015. Health insurance is no safety net – 75% of individuals declaring medical bankruptcy that year had health insurance coverage at the onset of the illness or accident.

The remedies, as envisioned by the National Alliance and The Campaign are three-fold.

First, educate patients (and those who one day may become one) about ways to reduce or avoid medical debt. It turns out that nothing is more effective than a well-informed population in helping bring down healthcare costs and improve results.

Secondly, help employers reduce the risk of medical debt among its employees. This can be achieved through establishing a wage-based benefit design and providing employer contributions to HSA’s, especially for lower-wage workers who have selected high-deductible health plans.

Lastly, to educate hospitals to protect patients from burdensome medical debt. This can be done by promoting fairer and stronger Financial Assistance Policies (FAPs), increasing the hospitals debt forgiveness rates, and reducing costly errors in billing and their internal collections. (Research shows that one-third of medical debt placed for collection or sometimes sold by hospitals to debt buyers actually qualify under their financial policy.)

A Uniquely American Solution

As Winston Churchill once famously said of America, “You can always count on America to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”

Dr. Manchanda, himself a physician-veteran of working with vulnerable populations and the homeless, believes this alliance will be key to doing the right thing and “turning our high-cost sick-care system into a high-value healthcare system.”

“I discovered the third important component – that of actually forgiving medical debt – by watching a segment of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight show in which he engaged a non-profit called RIP Medical Debt to help him forgive almost $15M in unpayable medical debt in Texas. I thought that was brilliant, and contacted RIP to test that approach out with a selected California community.”

He smiles, “After I had the experience of releasing a burden of $1.5M in debt for these people – for so few dollars – I was convinced that debt forgiveness was a necessary element to bringing about positive economic and community change.”

“RIP Medical Debt is pleased to participate in this campaign,” adds Craig Antico, CEO and co-founder.” “To help people get back on their feet, it is important to first take debt off their backs.”

“Education is the next most important thing to help people understand and solve the issues of medical debt. We are already working with an economic team from MIT, UC/Berkeley, UCLA and the University of Chicago on an economic impact study of the impact of medical debt, and also sponsor the Medical Debt Hub website to serve as a go-to place for people wanting to be educated and informed.”

If you fit into that last category and are curious as to how employers can make a major impact in reducing this problem, register here for the webinar and join the discussion.

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