Paytient is passionate about helping people access and afford care. And medical debt is one of the biggest reasons people postpone or completely avoid getting the care they need.
In the latest episode of the Paytient Podcast, we’re discussing medical debt and the consequences it carries with Ruth Landé. Ruth is the VP of hospital relations with RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit that has managed to eliminate nearly $7.4 billion in medical debt to date.
Among other things, Ruth talks with us about the origins of RIP Medical Debt, how the nonprofit navigates buying medical debt from providers and health systems, and why the U.S. has such extreme issues with medical debt.
Here are a few highlights from our conversation:
Debt Casts a Long Shadow
“There's so much medical debt, but it's not just the people who have the debt who are hurt. It's the people who don't have the debt but are scared of getting the debt, right? So many people are not seeking care because they’re worried about this.”
Medical Debt as a Social Determinant of Health
“And it's not just the [emergency department], right? You're just not going to seek care in general. There's been a couple of interesting studies recently about the relationship between illness and medical debt. There was one that came out recently [...] in JAMA which talked about the prevalence and risk factors for medical debt and subsequent changes in social determinants of health. Essentially, medical debt is a social determinant of health — something in your life that makes your health worse.”
The Importance of Asking for Assistance
“People should always contact the hospital. Even if you can’t call [...], send an email or a letter to say that this is a problem in terms of affordability and and explore financial assistance. Unfortunately, people often hide because they’re freaked out by the bill — it’s totally understandable. But then it can advance through go to a collection company, maybe hurt your credit, and do all sorts of devastating things. So you should definitely indicate you can’t afford it. Write a letter to the president of the hospital and list it all out. I think a lot of people feel shame about not being able to pay, and they should not.”
Long-Term Psychological Consequences
“For the last couple of years, we've also been reaching out directly to providers and buying debt from hospitals and physician groups. And the reason that we do that is we want to get hold of more debt, we want to relieve more debt — younger debt so that people suffer anguish less than they did before.
“Even if the hospital isn't pursuing the patient anymore, the patient doesn't know what happened. They still feel that debt. [...] When I was a debt collector at a hospital, I thought if I stopped collecting there was no harm done. But I didn't think about the fact that the patient is still sitting there remembering that they couldn't pay — and they don't want to go back to that hospital ever again.”
Eliminating the Stigma of Debt
“We also invite patients to share their stories with us. If you go to our website, you can read some of those stories because [...] we want to get rid of the stigma of debt. And the more people talk about these things, they realize how common it is — it’s not just them.”
Listen to the full discussion via the podcast player below or by clicking this link. If you'd like to connect with RIP Medical Debt and learn how you can help support the cause, you can find them on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and at ripmedicaldebt.org.