01/18/2019

Nurses' donation erases $8.9 million in medical debt for thousands

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Imagine opening  a letter informing you that your medical debt has been canceled. Thanks to the registered nurses represented by the Michigan Nurses Association, that dream became reality for more than 9,000 residents in northern Michigan burdened with medical debt. The announcement was made at a candlelight vigil organized by nurses at Munson Medical Center (MMC) in Traverse City.|

The action was important to the nurses because they wanted to help members of their community get out from under the crippling burden of healthcare debt.

Munson nurses, Michigan

“We’re negotiating right now for our own healthcare—and we also know that aggressive billing practices by Munson can be both financially and emotionally devastating for our patients,” says Melissa Boals, a registered nurse at MMC.
To get it done, the nurses and their union worked with RIP Medical Debt, a New York-based organization that uses charitable donations to purchase past-due medical debt for a fraction of its value and cancel the debts for individuals and families facing financial challenges.

The nurses’ donation of $12,500 allowed them to cancel more than $8.9 million worth of medical debt for 9,200 individuals and families in their surrounding communities. This is not the first time the Michigan Nurses Association has worked with RIP Medical Debt; they collaborated in 2017 to cancel $1 million in medical debt for 500 Michigan families.

“We’re thrilled to continue working with the Michigan Nurses Association,” says Jerry Ashton, co-founder of RIP Medical Debt. “Nurses do incredibly important work on the ground with patients and are the best barometer of undue hardships in healthcare.”

Many of the nurses at Munson know all too well about the high cost of healthcare. Safe staffing for patients along with competitive pay and affordable healthcare for staff are key contract issues for the nurses who are negotiating their first contact with Munson Healthcare; they voted to join the Michigan Nurses Association in August 2017.

A survey of the nurses revealed that some who require medical care receive calls demanding payment before their hospital will perform surgery; demands for payment before leaving the hospital for referral to other facilities; and demands to borrow from retirement funds to pay off medical debts to the hospital.

“The nurses and medical staff at Munson always go the extra mile to do their best for patients,” says Kelly Lambert, a registered nurse at MMC. “It’s a shame that when it comes to billing, the bosses at the hospital want to treat you like a number, not a person.”

 “We definitely want a better healthcare plan for nurses in our first contact,” says Nikia Parker, a registered nurse at MMC. “When nurses know we can take care of ourselves and our families without financial hardship, then we’re better able to focus on taking care of our patients.”

[Adrienne Coles; Michigan Nurses Association]