During the past nine months, Elizabeth Beck of the Valuation & Advisory Group based in the firm’s Atlanta office, has raised nearly $275,000 for RIP Medical Debt to abolish a total of more than $45 million in medical debt in Georgia.
RIP Medical Debt is a national nonprofit which purchases medical debts belonging to the most burdened Americans in large, bundled portfolios from debt buyers and collection agencies for a fraction of their face value. Every $1 abolishes $100 of medical debt on average.
Elizabeth recently spoke with Savannah Durban for a Q&A about her efforts:
When did you first hear about RIP Medical Debt?
I saw an episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver about medical debt a few years ago. He formed a debt-buying entity and then partnered with RIP Medical Debt to abolish about $14 million of medical debt for just $60,000. Around fall 2019, I started game-planning to launch a fundraiser for the community here, and it launched at the end of August 2020.
What do you think people should know about medical debt in Georgia?
Medical debt in Georgia is much, much more common than it appears to be, partially because much of it is disguised as consumer debt. You can’t defer payment to a pharmacy, but you can pay for prescriptions with a credit card. And only three of the 159 counties in the state don’t have a doctor shortage, which means that people have to take extra time off work to get medical care and incur potentially extraordinary transportation and lodging costs. That contributes to medical debt, too, and it’s a major reason why medical debt in areas with poor connectivity have higher concentrations of medical debt and worse health outcomes.
How was Cushman & Wakefield involved with your efforts?
I wanted to launch this as an act of love for Atlanta from V&A, a service line that doesn’t get a lot of fanfare but is stacked with incredible people. John McMann and Justin Glasser helped get it off the ground on the V&A side and have been incredibly supportive from the start. John and I ran it by the Atlanta Managing Principal Tyler Courtney, whose enthusiasm and support has done so much to amplify the campaign. This launched a few months into COVID, so I asked for as little as possible because the world was in crisis mode. Even during a global catastrophe, people made time for it: they leveraged their connections within and outside the industry, helped spread the word, and donated whatever was within their means. The support and confidence from colleagues here and in so many other markets was vital to creating the grassroots momentum that got it to where it is right now, and where it’s going to go.
Can you share information on the partnership with United Way?
A commercial real estate investor in Vancouver, Canada donated $200,000 via United Way of Atlanta and put RIP Medical Debt and UWA in touch with one another. Thanks to this donor’s decision to donate via United Way, RIP was able to get medical debt on UWA’s radar as a crisis that needs attention in the community. UWA takes a wholistic approach to restoring the financial health of the people they serve, and many people who struggle with housing, financial instability, and food insecurity also deal with medical debt.
Specifically, United Way will use data provided by RIP, along with the expertise of their community engagement leads, to inform their work with various partner agencies that service the 13-county region who will work with them to eliminate debt and provide support for families in need. Letters that go out to individuals whose debt has been forgiven will include information about relevant organizations that can help build financial stability for the long haul. It isn’t a formal partnership; it’s more of a catalyst that expanded UWA’s scope of community care. Helping people in metro Atlanta avoid ruinous medical debt by making them aware of their options for reduced or free healthcare costs makes UWA’s expanded focus a natural boon to RIP’s mission, and RIP’s restoration of credit via medical debt abolition makes UWA’s work easier, too. For more, visit the donation page here.
If anyone else in our other markets is interested in launching one for their own community, check out this interactive map showing medical debt figures in every U.S. county and reach out to RIP about launching one for your region – I am happy to help! Several of my fellow committee members in Cushman & Wakefield’s LEAD (Leading with Education and Awareness of Disabilities) Employee Resource Group will be launching campaigns for their regions over the next few months. There’s also a non-profit called Dollar For whose focus is enforcing hospitals’ charity care policies on behalf of patients all over the country. They’re doing the work to keep medical debt from reaching critical mass in the first place, and they’re about to start training volunteers all over the country to do what they do. We’re rallying as many people in any and every office to learn how to do this and donate an hour here or there to help crush those bills. Trust me: as soon as you get the first rush of secondhand joy from letting someone know that they won’t be ruined by medical bills and can rest easy, you will be hooked!
*Medical debt campaigns depend on RIP having available medical debt in the area of interest. Access to debt is asymmetrical throughout the country, so RIP Medical Debt invite campaigners to potentially be flexible about where (and who) they're helping should their immediate area not be viable for a campaign.