KUTV pays down $1.4 M in medical debt for Utahns
(KUTV) Life threw Shaun McKinnon a curve ball. At only 54 years old, he suffered seven rapid strokes.
“I should have had insurance but I didn't feel like I could afford it," he said.
After 30 years successfully running his own flooring business, he had a decent nest egg built up. That nest egg is now gone and 10s-of-thousands of dollars in medical bill go unpaid every month.
“The stack of bills keeps getting a little higher," he says, and there is end in sight.
Shaun says he wants desperately to meet his financial obligations but he can't work, the money is gone and bills keep rolling in.
“Debt collectors, they're persistent," he said.
Shaun is in very good company - and the number are shocking. About 17 percent of Americans have trouble paying their medical bills. Even with insurance, 26 percent of people say medical bills have taken a serious toll on their family's finances and a whopping 1 in 5 folks have had their credit dinged over unpaid medical bills.
Our investigation found that, here in Utah, 711,000 folks have been dinged for about $1.77 B in unpaid debt in recent years, though experts says Utahns are actually burdened with more than $10 billion at any given time.
But here’s something you might not know: when a doctor or hospital can't collect on a medical bill, they often sell the debt to a debt collector. When that debt collector can't collect, he'll sell it to another debt collector who may sell it to another, and another and another.
With every sale, the amount of what the patient owes goes up, with interest and fees. But, how much the debt collector pays goes down until a debt collector is only paying pennies for the right to collect tens of thousands of dollars from a patient.
The buying and selling of debt can be a vicious cycle - but therein lies an opportunity.
If a debt collector can buy up debt for pennies on the dollar, why can't you and I?
The answer is - we can. And, so, I did.
My KUTV bosses ponied up $12,500 and, with that money, I was able to buy up $1.4 M of medical debt in Utah.
If you have medical debt, check your mailbox. You may be getting a yellow envelope from Get Gephardt and a non-profit called RIP Medical Debt. If you do, it means that at least one of your bills has been paid off.
I don't know whose debt is being paid off due to patient privacy laws. I'd love to be able to tell a few of those stories, so if you get a payoff notice, I kindly ask that you reach out to me and let me know about it.
My number is (801) 839-1250 or you can send me an email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Much more on the charity and how it does what it does in upcoming 2News segments.