It sounds crazy, but it really works. With the right knowledge, licensing and doggedness, a group can buy up medical debt for pennies of the dollar and then, literally, RIP. IT. UP.
Strike Debt, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, pioneered this idea back in 2012-2013, when they bought up and retired some $36,000,000 in debt, calling attention to the medical debt problem in these United States and getting massive press coverage. They called it the Rolling Jubilee. I wrote a number of diaries about the effort back then, here's one of them.
Now Strike Debt Bay Area, an activist group I belong to, is doing the same thing (on a smaller scale) in the Bay Area. Anyone can help – just a $10 donation will erase around a $1000 of medical debt for someone who, if you live roundabouts, could well be your neighbor.
You may have read by now how San Francisco General Hospital charges patients tens of thousands of dollars for emergency surgery that should be covered by people's insurance. We've all read by now how pharmaceutical companies have jacked up the price of insulin to the point where people are going into massive debt to stay alive – or dying when they run out of credit. You might well have read about debt collection companies which harass cancer patients, the elderly and even newborns for money they can't possibly come up with.
The ultimate solution is one Strike Debt Bay Area wholeheartedly supports and promotes: universal, free at point-of-service health care, just like the rest of the industrialized world already has. Whether you call it Medicare 4 All, Single Payer, or Common Sense, it's what we need.
But until we get it, a little bit can go a long way towards removing someone's burden of crippling medical debt – as well as with helping our campaign reinforce the absurdity of our current dysfunctional system.
Similar campaigns have happened in localities elsewhere. In Annapolis, a Church wiped out $2M in medical debt. In Michigan, a nurses group erased $1M. In Washington state, television station KIRO and their viewers donated enough to forgive $3M.