Texas leads the country when it comes to medical debt, but one group, including members here in Kerr County, is working to ease that burden for families.
Texans owe an estimated $11 billion in medical debt — by far the largest amount in the U.S. — and 25% of state residents owe money for a medical procedure. Here in the Hill Country, millions of dollars are owed, and many people have fallen into collections on this unpaid debt.
This isn’t just a problem in Texas, but across the nation, and the nonprofit group RIP Medical Debt has taken on the challenge to buy and forgive that debt across the country, and they’ve done it be enlisting the help of churches and other nonprofits.
“This kind of thing can happen to anybody, and to have the ability to take this off of someone’s plate is a blessing,” said David Danielson, senior pastor of Kerrville’s Impact Christian Fellowship, which has joined the program to wipe out more than $50,000 in debt here locally.
In Kerr County, one advocacy group estimates that Kerr County exceeds a national average for percentage of people who have medical debt in collection. Those who owe money in Kerr County for those procedures owe about $1,032, and 27% of those people are in collection for that money — just above the state average of 26%.
“Medina County has the highest amount of unpaid medical debt of $3 million,” Danielson said.
Texas also has one of the highest rates of people without health insurance in the country. About 17% of the state’s population is without health insurance and 19% of Kerr County residents are without insurance.
Currently, three other churches have opted in to raise the $50,000 necessary to abolish five million dollars of unpaid medical debt across the nine counties.
Danielson said Impact Christian Fellowship began taking offerings toward the $50,000 goal on Aug. 4 and, thus far, collections have reached $6,000.
The other three churches will begin taking offerings for the goal on Aug. 18, and each pastor will inform their congregations of their churches opt-in status before that time.
For every $100 donated to the nonprofit, it is able to purchase and forgive $10,000 of medical debt.
Beneficiaries of the debt forgiveness face no negative consequences and are not taxed on the debt forgiveness.
The nonprofit is the brain child of Craig Antico and Jerry Ashton, who have worked to wipe out $715 million in medical debt for about 240,000 Americans.
Danielson said that he saw a story on Fox News in which a church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, raised the funds to have RIP Medical Debt purchase and forgive $1.9 million in unpaid medical debt.
The story said the Grand Rapids church was inspired to do so by a church in Texas that had done the same thing for their community.
His interest piqued, Danielson decided to contact RIP Medical Debt and learned RIP Medical Debt has a targeted group of people it considers for this debt forgiveness:
• Individuals who make less than 2 times the federal poverty level.
•Individuals with financial hardship (5% or more of their annual income going to out-of-pocket medical bills).
• Individuals who are insolvent (debts greater than assets).
RIP Medical identifies the people who qualify and cannot target a particular demographic.
In order to do this program in a particular community, RIP needs to find at least $1.5 million of medical debt in that area.
Daniels asked RIP Medical Debt to gather information on the balances of unpaid medical debt in Kerr and surrounding counties and was provided with the following information:
• Bandera, $421,742.04
• Blanco, $52,022.50
• Gillespie, $115,776.76
• Kendall, $469,099.26
• Kerr County, $693,564.66
• Kimble, $200,342.00
• Kinney, $6,177.84
• Medina, $2,967,249.63
• Real, $71,449.00
RIP Medical Debt informed Danielson that if his church could raise $21,000, they could purchase and forgive $2.03 million in debt, not including the $2.97 million in Medina County. Raising a total $50,000 would allow RIP Medical Debt to include Medina County.
Meeting the $21,000 initial goal would allow relief to 630 individuals/families and meeting the larger goal of $50,000 would assist a total 1,400 individuals/families.
Danielson said he prayed on it and then reached out to the other churches so that the larger goal could be achieved.
“This kind of thing can happen to anybody, and to have the ability to take this off of someone’s plate is a blessing,” said Danielson.