Non-profits target medical debt in southwestern Virginia

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) A non-profit organization in the New River Valley is committing millions of dollars to purchase and forgive medical debt in southwestern Virginia.

The Secular Society, located in Blacksburg, is working with RIP Medical Debt, a New York non-profit.

The organizations say the effort could eliminate hundreds of millions of dollars worth of unpaid debt, and help individuals repair their credit.

"Medical debt is becoming such a burden in this country," said RIP Medical Debt Co-founder Craig Antico. "You're one illness or accident away from financial ruin."

In the last five years, RIP Medical Debt has purchased and forgiven more than $1.5 billion worth of medical debt for over 700,000 people.

RIP says it purchases medical debt portfolios at a steep discount, and settles in full, the debts of people who cannot pay.

With up to $3 million from The Secular Society over three years, RIP believes it can eliminate more than $350 million of private citizen debt in southwestern Virginia.

People cannot apply for debt forgiveness, but the effort will focus on those whose income is less than two times the federal poverty level, or who are insolvent.

The program applies to 20 counties, stretching from the southwestern tip of the state all the way to Franklin and Craig counties.

"Any kind of derogatory credit mark on their credit report will be removed," Antico said. "That's a significant impact on people's credit. Even a $100 mark on your credit can knock it down 300 to 100 points, so this is going to restore credit for many of those people."

Antico says the effort to locate, purchase and erase unpaid medical debt will begin immediately, but it could be July or August before people start receiving letters saying their medical debt has been forgiven.

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