Lawrence, KC-area doctors donate $11K to patient medical debt

photo by: 2017 Kansas And Missouri Consumer Health Access Survey

Medical debt among residents in Kansas: Results from the 2017 Kansas and Missouri Consumer Health Access Survey (KMHS)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A group of Kansas City-area doctors have donated about $11,000 to help pay off medical bills for hundreds of patients in Missouri and Kansas.

The Midwest Direct Primary Care Alliance’s donation will buy $1.47 million worth of medical debt on behalf of 784 patients in the two states, the Kansas City Star reported. The alliance is comprised of 21 medical clinics where doctors don’t take health insurance and instead charge patients a monthly membership fee.

“When I worked within the large hospital systems, I couldn’t tell you how much an MRI was. Or what a lab would cost the patient. As doctors, we had been blinded to the cost of care, and — whether we like it or not — we bore some responsibility for patients’ bills,” Dr. Ryan Neuhofel, of NeuCare in Lawrence, said in a news release from the organization. “But now it’s our job, as direct primary care providers, to prioritize thinking about healthcare costs in the context of care and prevent debt like this from piling up in the first place.”

About 19 doctors and nurse practitioners who work for alliance clinics donated the money to RIP Medical Debt, said Allison Edwards, owner of Kansas City Direct Primary Care in Kansas City, Kan. Dr. Jennifer Smith, of Accomplished Health & Wellness in Lawrence, is also a member of MDPCA who contributed to the effort. The New York-based nonprofit RIP Medical Debt buys bundles of unpaid bills from collection agencies and medical providers for pennies on the dollar.

“In our society, we’ve decided that health care is a commodity and we’re going to have to pay for it in some way or another, and until that changes, we’re going to have to figure out a way to help people,” Edwards said.

She said the doctors don’t know whose medical bills were covered by their donation, but RIP Medical Debt focuses its efforts on military members, veterans and low-income patients. To be eligible, patients must make less than twice the federal poverty limit, have medical debts that outstrip their assets or have medical debts that are more than 5 percent of their annual income.

The debt forgiveness is delivered in a letter that arrives inside a golden envelope.

“The amount of medical debt that exists within the metro is astounding,” Edwards said. “So it’s a small thing we did, relatively speaking. It sounds big, but there’s millions of dollars in debt, hundreds of millions, within the Kansas City metro area alone that’s just sitting there asking to be paid, and it’s not going to (be paid).”

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