Asheville group joins effort to pay off medical debt for those in need


    A group in Asheville joined the RIP Medical Debt effort, a low cost way to help those buried under the weight of bills. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

    A New York-based nonprofit is attacking unpaid medical debt for people in need--and now there's a local connection.

    A group in Asheville joined the RIP Medical Debt effort, a low-cost way to help those buried under the weight of bills. The founders of RIP are former collection agency executives who took their expertise in a different direction.

    The nonprofit buys bundles of past-due medical bills then makes it work for those who just can't pay.

    "RIP Medical Debt can buy the debt for a penny on the dollar," said Mignon Durham, who is helping organize the WNC chapter of the medical debt forgiveness effort. "When you give $1, you're giving $100."

    RIP sets the parameters of who qualifies. Its goal is simple.

    "To raise $15,000, and that means we will eliminate $1.5 million in medical debt right here at home," Durham said.

    RIP Medical Debt got a high-profile boost from John Oliver of HBO's "Last Week Tonight".

    "For $25, they can eliminate $2,500 for our neighbors. I mean, that's just such a no-brainer," said Lauren DeWorde, owner of ZaPow Gallery in Asheville.

    She'll be hosting a fundraiser in April as part of the RIP Medical Debt effort.

    DeWorde has her reasons.

    "I was thinking of some of my artists that maybe don't have as many resources and support that I have, and if this same situation had happened to them, how much harder it would be for them," she said.

    There's a clock on the RIP website that ticks off dollars raised. It's estimated Americans have more than $750 billion in past-due bills, so it's just a drop in the bucket.

    "Sixty percent of all the bankruptcies in this country are because of medical debt. That's wrong, and to me it's just immoral. We've got to fix this," Durham said.

    The local campaign runs through April 15. If there's money raised beyond the goal of $15,000, it'll go toward RIP's national veterans campaign.

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