Community Congregational UCC Montgomery Helps Retire Medical Debt

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The following was published on November 9 in the Greenville Advocate Newspaper (https://www.greenvilleadvocate.com/2020/11/09/groups-clear-74k-in-medical-debt-locally/)

by Andrew Edwards

A coalition of Montgomery faith communities cleared more than $3.4 million in medical debt last month for more than 3,100 families, $74,000 of which was in Butler County.

First Christian Church on Taylor Road, Agudath Israel Etz Ahayem Synagogue on Cloverdale Road, and Community Congregational United Church of Christ on South Court Street in Montgomery, worked with RIP Medical Debt, a New York-based charity, to help low-income families get back on their feet.

The local group raised more than $23,000 through an online campaign and an interfaith benefit talent show. RIP Medical Debt used those donations to purchase bundled medical debt portfolios that have gone through collection agencies for months or years. Using third-party credit data providers, RIP Medical Debt targeted debt incurred by area people facing financial hardship, and then forgave it.

RIP Medical Debt’s charitable model lets it leverage $1, on average, to abolish $100 in medical debt since these debts are purchased bundled together at a fraction of their face value. The $23,600 in local contributions resulted in $3.4 million of debt forgiveness.

“Medical debt isn’t a faraway problem,” said Kreg Sherbine, project leader for the Montgomery campaign. “Even people with ‘good’ insurance can be ruined by deductibles and copayments. Medical debt isn’t the result of bad decisions. It’s a debt of necessity.”

The program leaders raised money online for several months, mainly by word of mouth. Then the churches and synagogue organized an online benefit talent show on July 19. The evening included Broadway stars as well as local singer-songwriters. There were also a few fun surprises from within the faith communities’ congregations, including a surprise welcome and support from Montgomery’s mayor, and moderator of Community Congregational UCC, Steven Reed. The talent show alone raised $6,000. 

Additional donations pushed the group over its $20,000 fundraising goal. In August, RIP Medical Debt completed the debt purchase. Then they organized the data and began printing letters. People started receiving letters in September, announcing their debts had been forgiven.

“My family is frustrated by the challenges in the healthcare system, and we were inspired by stories of debt forgiveness,” said Sherbine. “We are grateful to First Christian Church for embracing its mission of caring for the sick and the poor, and to Agudath Israel Etz Ahayem Synagogue, Community Congregational Church, and numerous local and regional donors for embracing this challenge.”