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Slaying Medical Debt: Calif. Church’s Generosity Part of Growing Trend

More than 5,500 low-income households in the Los Angeles area recently received a welcomed “Christmas gift” when a local church helped them pay off $5.3 million in medical bills, according to media reports.

“No strings attached,” Tom Hughes, co-senior pastor of Christian Assembly in Eagle Rock, Calif., said in a video posted Dec. 19, the Christian Post reported. He said residents were sent a letter announcing their medical debt “has been canceled, no strings attached, because of the generosity of the people of Christian Assembly Church.”

The church reportedly selected families living below the poverty line in 28 neighborhoods where church members live.  “As they recover from their illness, it will help them get back on their feet and avoid homelessness,” the pastor said. “All of this is being done in Jesus’ name and the letter will share that as well.”

Working with a New York-based non-profit RIP Medical Debt, Christian Assembly was able to purchase the medical debt “for pennies on the dollar through the collection system and then forgive the debt,” Christian Post reported.

This generous act is the latest in a growing trend among churches throughout the country that CBN News reported on earlier this year. Across the country, churches are working with RIP Medical Debt to help free people struggling to pay their medical bills. CBN reported on similar efforts in DeLand, Fla.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Medford, Oregon; Wichita, Kansas; and Evansville, Ind.

Stetson Baptist Church in DeLand, Fla., is paying off more than $7.2 million in medical debt for more than 6,500 individuals and families, CBN reported. Those families were reportedly at or below the poverty line in five Florida counties.

In September, Baptist Press reported that Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, was partnering with RIP Medical Debt toward helping hundreds of East Texas homes pay off $4 million in medical debt.

RIP Medical Debt announced in December that it had eliminated $1 billion in medical debt.

Founded in 2014 by a couple of debt collectors Craig Antigo and Jerry Ashton, the organization said the announcement marked an “an incredible accomplishment.” But they noted, “we also now see a much greater peak from this vantage point: billions more of un-payable medical debt burdening everyday Americans. Our work has just begun.”

Antico told BP the organization was started as a response to the growing issue with medical debt and its “crippling” impact on poor families. According to the non-profit’s website, 79,000 Americans choose between paying their medical bills and basic needs.

The two men used their experience to create a way to pay off debt “using donations to buy large bundles of medical debt and then forgive that debt with no tax consequences to donors or recipients,” according to the organization’s website.  Since then, the non-profit has helped deliver 520,000 individuals and families from medical debt, according to their latest figures.

Antico said half of all debt collectors are collecting money for medical debts, BP reported.

“If we can end the hardship of medical debt, then our medical system will work,” Antico said. “What we’re saying is that the reason it doesn’t work is that [medical debt] ruins people. They’re like one illness or accident away from financial ruin. If we can remove the financial ruin in people’s lives because of medical debt, then we’re doing what we set out to do.”

As far as its spiritual impact?

Antico told BP, “I don’t know if it’s going to get people to come to church, but it does give people a renewed sense of faith …. I’ve had many people write us that this was an answered prayer. ‘It’s a miracle that you guys are in existence,’ they say.”

Editor’s Note:  Most Tuesdays, MinistryWatch posts a story of churches and ministries doing great work in the world.  We call these ministries and churches “Shining Lights.”  You can read more of these encouraging stories here.