White book with words End Medical Debt

While the politicians dither over universal health care versus single payer versus the current Republican prescription for all non-millionaires (Get Sick & Die Quick), medical debt is still the number one cause of American family bankruptcies.

Throughout the US, people are forced every day to choose between medical care and food, shelter, and supporting their children.

At this point there’s no indication there’ll be an easy victory to bring the US in sync with the rest of the civilized world in providing decent health coverage.

But one back-door guerrilla campaign is being waged to lessen some of the pain. A group called RIP Medical Debt has thus far helped retire around $434,000,000 owed by about a quarter-million Americans. With some $750,000,000,000 in nationwide indebtedness to medical providers and their secondary bill collectors, it might seem like a drop in the bucket. But for those who are helped, it can mean a new life.

The organizers call themselves “resolutionaries.” Their book, RIP Medical Debt, lays out their strategy. They’ll be meeting in Washington next Tuesday (May 21) to announce the retirement of some $3 million in medical debt owed by hundreds of DC families who can’t pay the regular way.

The idea is reasonably simple. Professional debt collectors have bought the paper on billions of dollars in overdue medical bills imposed on good, hard-working citizens who are not Donald Trump and/or rouble-laundering mobsters.

Much of this actual dollar debt is owed by people who earn less than double the federal poverty level. These nearly always unjust charges have pushed tens of millions of your friends and neighbors (if not you yourself) to the brink of bankruptcy … or over. Along with tortured children and a destroyed planet, this is one of the true hallmarks of the Trump catastrophe.

But there’s a hidden “magic” here. As explained in the book/website, and on my radio interview with the founders, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of this debt can be bought for pennies on the dollar.

The guerrilla gurus of this backdoor liberation movement seem well-suited to pull it off. Craig Antico spent three decades in the business of collecting, buying, outsourcing, and consulting with those who’ve chosen to navigate the rarified swamps of financial debt. Jerry Ashton spent four decades in the credit and collections industry. Robert Goff spent a parallel four decades managing healthcare administrations.

Today the mission of these former insiders is to retire billions of this onerous paper and allow downtrodden families to escape to solvency. That we are the only nation in the industrialized world without national health care is the vile villain. That these heroes want to burst the locks on our cells is extraordinary.

They’ve recruited some high-profile help. John Oliver’s June 5, 2016, “Last Week Tonight” featured an entire show devoted to the sickness of the debt-buying industry.

He also proclaimed a cure for the cause of countless bankruptcies. Oliver set up his own debt-buying company, made himself chair of the board, and then pledged $60,000 to buy up some $15,000,000 in bad paper owed by some 9,000 people. Amidst some slapstick comic hoopla, Oliver proclaimed himself the new “King of TV Giveaways,” nearly doubling the $8,000,000 in automobiles Oprah once gave away to her daytime audience.

The transactions were handled through RIP Medical Debt, which sent yellow envelopes to the lucky winners. Many may have pitched this “junk mail” into their recycling bins without looking at it. But even so, their debts were retired.

Oliver’s gambit has been mimicked by at least one other pair of samaritans. The New York Times reported on December 5, 2018, that Judith Jones and Carolyn Kenyon of Ithaca, New York, had raised $12,500 to buy $1,500,000,000 in overdue medical debt owed by 1,284 New Yorkers.

Antico, Ashton and Goff hope to retire more than a billion dollars of otherwise unpayable liabilities. “It’s just a drop in the bucket,” says Antico. But for thousands of individuals and families, it’s made a life-changing difference.

RIP Medical Debt sometimes targets specific groups, like veterans. “I like doing this much more than I liked doing collecting,” Antico says. “The people do not have to ask for help. The random act of kindness is kind of a cool thing.”

In the Age of Trump, however small it might seem, it’s a welcome relief from the unending stream of wanton cruelty for its own sake pouring from the highest reaches of an illegitimate government.

Should it work its way into student loans and other cesspools of mobster greed, the impact of such “paying it forward” might ultimately turn from a “drop in the bucket” to a tsunami of kindness that can liberate legions. It would be just the kind of candle in the storm so many of us could really use to lift our spirits … not to mention saving our homes and families.

Harvey Wasserman’s Green Power & Wellness Show is podcast at; California Solartopia is broadcast at KPFK-Pacifica, 90.7 fm, Los Angeles. His Life & Death Spiral of US History: From Deganawidah to Solartopia will soon be at