TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Imagine opening your mailbox to find a letter saying your medical debt has been forgiven. Thanks to St. John's Episcopal Church and RIP Medical Debt, that will be the case for some families.
St. John's Episcopal Church took the charitable route in celebration of Lent. Church members like Dr. Don Zorn raised $28,000 dollars to pay off medical debt for Floridians.
"I'm a retired physician. I've seen how crushing and life-altering medical debt can be," said Dr. Zorn.
The unique charitable opportunity left Dr. Zorn wondering why they hadn't thought of it sooner. The church used charity as a way to signify why Lent is so important.
"It spoke to us about a way we could spend this whole season thinking beyond our own wallet," said St. John's Senior Associate Rector Mother Abi Moon.
Mother Abi Moon says the church set an initial goal of $10,000. They were amazed to see the community almost triple that goal.
"We were astonished at the response we received obviously to a great need in Florida and beyond. The fact that medical debt can be so crippling to an individual and families," she said.
St. John's partnered with RIP Medical Debt. It's a nationwide non-profit based out of New York City. RIP Medical Debt Executive Director Allison Sesso says the main goal of the organization is to erase medical debt in the country.
"We were founded by two amazing gentlemen, Jerry Ashton and Craig Antico, and they were former debt buyers themselves," said Sesso, "They looked at the debt market and they said 'We could really do this work for good'."
RIP Medical Debt buys debt off the secondary market and directly from hospitals to pay down outstanding bills.
Because the debt is bought in bulk, RIP Medical Debt is able to stretch every dollar. $1 donated pays off $100 in debt. That means St. John's donation will pay off closer to $280,000 in medical debt.
"Our church partners are incredible they are a big part of our fund-raising. And it really shows you the grassroots nature of what we do," said Sesso.
The organization has been around since 2014. In that time frame, they have been able to pay off close to $4 billion across the country. However, the momentum is thanks to comedian John Oliver.
On his TV show, Last Week Tonight, John Oliver talked about the organization in relation to debt collection agencies in the United States. He donated $15 million to the organization in that episode.
"Once it hit the airwaves, we got so much attention to RIP Medical Debt. It just exploded," said Sesso. "I mean the website crashed, it was just really incredible."
A year into the pandemic, the mission of the non-profit means more to millions of Americans.
"The need which was pressing pre-COVID has now become magnified. We needed to help in some way," said Dr. Zorn.
Sesso says the pandemic has highlighted larger issues within paying for healthcare.
"What we saw with COVID was that a lot of people lost their insurance because they lost their jobs, the interesting thing about medical debt is it's not just an issue of access to healthcare, but it also has to do with your economic situation," she said.
The money raised by St. John's will benefit families in the Orlando area. You can visit RIP Medical Debt's website to get more information or to donate.