‘A Christmas gift’: Calif. church pays off over $5 million in medical debt

Christian Assembly Church, a non-denominational congregation based in the Los Angeles, California area.
Christian Assembly Church, a non-denominational congregation based in the Los Angeles, California area. | Facebook/Christian Assembly Church

A congregation in California has successfully purchased and cleared over $5 million in medical debt for more than 5,000 households in what one of their pastors called a “Christmas gift.”

The Los Angeles-area Christian Assembly Church announced last week that the congregation was able to purchase $5.3 million in medical debt and pay it off for 5,555 households.

The residents were selected based on the neighborhoods that Christian Assembly members live in, which came to 28 different neighborhoods in Los Angeles and the surrounding area.

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Tom Hughes, co-senior pastor of Christian Assembly, said in a video announcement posted last Thursday that the medical debt payment was “a Christmas gift” that comes with “no strings attached.”

“All 5,555 households are going to be getting a letter letting them know that their medical debt has been canceled, no strings attached, because of the generosity of the people of Christian Assembly Church,” Hughes explained.  

“As they recover from their illness, it will help them get back on their feet and avoid homelessness. All of this is being done in Jesus’ name and the letter will share that as well.”

Hughes saw this action as an example of the church “loving our neighbors far and wide” and a testament to “the generosity of our God.”

The church worked with RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit based in New York that works to buy medical debt for pennies on the dollar through the collection system and then forgives the debt.

The nonprofit was founded in 2014 and garnered major headlines when it was positively featured on the HBO talk show “Last Week Tonight” hosted by comedian John Oliver.

RIP Medical Debt has often worked with churches across the United States, raising money to buy the medical debt for those living in poverty and relieving it so they do not incur expenses.

For example, Victory Life Church of Battle Creek, Michigan, announced that they were able to raise enough money to eliminate $3.89 million in medical debt for area residents.

“All of that $3.8 million was for people within our community, and that's what we loved about it,” said Victory Life pastor James Sunnock in an interview with the Battle Creek Enquirer.

“It would be great to do it for anybody, but we wanted to invest and bring change within our community … The fact these are people in economically hard times, it felt good to do something without expecting anything in return.”

Earlier this month, RIP Medical Debt announced that, with the help of various donors, they had already eliminated $1 billion in medical debt for more than 500,000 people in the United States.

Craig Antico and Jerry Ashton, founders of the nonprofit, said in a statement released Dec. 12 that despite the “incredible accomplishment,” they did not believe their work was over.

“When we were first dreaming up RIP we decided to set an audacious goal: $1 billion of relieved medical debt,” they said.

“To have reached that summit is an incredible accomplishment, but we also now see a much greater peak from this vantage point: billions more of un-payable medical debt burdening everyday Americans. Our work has just begun.”

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