LABELLE — Within a few weeks, 350 families in Hendry County will begin receiving notification that their overdue medical debts have been satisfied in full. This is but the first step in what organizers hope can be extended to more than 20,000 SW Florida families in the coming months, amounting to $28.7 million in debt relief. Of the 11 SWFL counties covered in the campaign Hendry County is the first to have all of its debt meeting the criteria below paid in full. The 11 counties covered are Lee, Charlotte, DeSoto, Hardee, Glades, Hendry, Manatee, Highlands, Sarasota, Collier and Monroe.
Hendry County had 350 individuals and families with a medical debt of $500,000.
Glades County had 60 individuals and families with a medical debt of $35,000.
The campaign is being spearheaded by a group of area churches calling themselves Christians for SWFL (christiansforswfl.com), working through a national non-profit organization called RIP Medical Debt (ripmedicaldebt.org). RIP locates and buys the debt from bill collectors on behalf of the local group, for pennies on the dollar, and subsequently cancels the debt in its entirety. Since it’s a detached third-party and a 501(c)(3) charity, there is no income reporting required or tax implications for those being helped. It’s a no-strings-attached gift to the beneficiary, with no future obligation to pay the debt.
Recipients are chosen anonymously among those with medical debt who:
• Make less than twice the federal poverty level,
• Have out-of-pocket medical expenses totaling 5% or more of their annual income, or
• Are insolvent (debts exceed assets).
Notices will be sent in bright yellow envelopes, emblazoned with a red headline that reads “Your debt paid by SWFL Churches!”