American Genius at Work: Charities

Image result for medical debtOne of the most notable and attractive hallmarks of American society is the extent and breadth of its charitable energies and organizations representing, at once, testimony to the spirit of the nation and its willingness to share its resources to assist less fortunate members of the polity. It is true, sometimes, as our companion piece today records (Some Scams Never Die, Never Fade Away), that unscrupulous manipulators will take advantage of that virtue. However, for the most part, the nation’s charities—from churches to schools to hospitals—dispense and discharge vital services in the interest of public policy and the common wealth.

Mary Washington Hospital (MWH) is a not-for-profit medical institution located in Fredericksburg, founded in 1988 to serve the locality. Over time, like many successful medical centers, MWH has grown into a community necessity, especially in this time of increasing need for such hospital services. It has an annual income of some $635 million, serving over 500,000 individuals annually through a network of two hospital centers and auxiliary health facilities. At the same time, as is true for many such institutions, demand for services has outstripped the financial capacity of some patients to pay for care, causing MWH to experience an increasingly significant difference between income and expenses. In 2017, MWH recorded $47.3 million in unreimbursed Medicare assistance to patients.

Medical debt contributes substantially to the number of bankruptcy filings in the United States. Estimates are that between 600,000 and 1 million individuals per year succumb to medical debt.

MWH, like any other business, organized a collection function, which resulted in hundreds of nonpaying patients being brought to court on a monthly basis, resulting in judgments levied against them. In June, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published an article critical of six Virginia hospitals (including MWH) and their collection practices, in part, as being in conflict with their charitable mission. MWH subsequently announced that it had suspended the practice, to evaluate alternatives.

Medical debt contributes substantially to the number of bankruptcy filings in the United States. Estimates are that between 600,000 and 1 million individuals per year succumb to medical debt. In 2014, two former, experienced debt collection executives, having grown disillusioned by their experience with medical debt, founded RIP Medical, a not-for-profit that raises funds to acquire and purchase bad debt paper and liquidate the liens of individuals. Since its inception, RIP has liquidated nearly $625 million, including $50 million for military personnel. Recently, in Michigan, RIP—working with the Michigan Nurses Association—paid off $1 million in debt for 500 families in the Lansing area.  The organization’s bold motto says it is The Cure for Medical Debt as it states that for every $1 donated, $100 of medical debt can be liquidated.

Both enterprises exhibit the American genius of its charitable culture. VoxFairfax believes there is a need in Fredericksburg for a cooperative effort and envisions a local organization raising the funds necessary to enable MWH to fulfill its original mission and enhance its community standing while disabling an aggressive debt- collection function. Perhaps one of our readers could spark the interest of a friend.



Categories: Health Care, Issues, Local, National

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