Today in New York City a team of researchers is meeting to finalize plans for studying the economic impact of medical debt forgiveness. The Mini-Summit is being hosted by RIP Medical Debt, a not-for-profit charity that buys portfolios of medical debt and then forgives the debt.

Coming together today will be researchers from the economics departments at UCLA, the University of Chicago, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and University of California at Berkeley. Also taking part are RIP Medical Debt, TransUnion, 1/0, and other philantropists and interested parties.

The group says that about 64 million Americans struggle with unpaid and unpayable medical debt annually, even with health insurance. About 15 million annually become insolvent because of medical debt, and about 1 million go bankrupt. So they are looking to quantify the impact of medical debt forgiveness.

The bulk of the agenda will include "Shirtsleeves work by the University team and others, including breakout sessions for special interest groups in the banking, collections, insurance, philanthropic, medical and tech industries."

The University Team includes:

  • Wes Yin, PhD, Associate Professor of Public Policy, UCLA
  • Neale Mahoney, Assistant Professor of Economics, University of Chicago
  • Francis Wong, PhD Candidate, Department of Economics, UC/Berkeley
  • Ray Kluender, PhD Candidate, Department of Economics, MIT

Neal Mahoney of the University of Chicago said of the initiative:

“We are interested in whether medical debt relief can start a virtuous cycle: raising credit scores, lowering interest rates on non-medical debt, and thereby allowing households to more generally get their financial lives in order. And we’re hoping to identify which types of household benefit the most from medical debt relief, so that we can target medical debt forgiveness to get the highest bang-for-the-buck.”

insideARM Perspective

If this sounds familiar, you may recall a story from last summer, when Last Week Tonight with John Oliver skewered the debt-buying industry, and then dramatically closed the segment by "giving away" $15 million in medical debt. He forgave the debt by buying a portfolio of approximately 90,000 out-of-stat accounts, and giving it to RIP Medical Debt. RIP is a non-profit company established by two former collection industry executives with the mission of forgiving medical debt, with no tax consequences for the consumer.

Meanwhile, you may have noticed a recent story in the news, where the Minnesota Nurses Association has worked to help approximately 1,800 patients by buying and forgivinig their medical debt.

An admirable initiative, this organization seems to have established some legs... and has recruited some very well-respected names in the process. We will keep watching.

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