Pennsylvania churches help pay off about $3.5M in medical debt


Two Episcopal Church congregations in Pennsylvania recently paid off millions in medical debt as part of a broader charitable effort to aid families in need.

St. Luke's Episcopal Church of Lebanon and Hope Episcopal Church in Manheim coordinated the fundraising to erase nearly $3.5 million in medical debt for families in the state.

St. Luke's announced the fundraising success on Facebook on Sunday, noting that the achievement was commemorated during one of its worship services.

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"This multi-diocese, multi-faith project resulted in the successful purchase and forgiveness of nearly $3.5 million of medical debt for Pennsylvania families. The highlight of our special Evensong service today was the symbolic burning of that debt," the announcement stated.

"Medical debt is a burden no family should have to bear, and we encourage our followers to advocate for accessible and affordable healthcare for all."

The congregation urged people to help pay off medical debt by providing a link to an information page for RIP Medical Debt, an organization that works to eliminate medical debt.

RIP Medical Debt eliminates the medical debts of families by helping raise money to purchase the debt at a much-reduced amount, usually pennies on the dollar.

"What has encouraged us the most is that these funds were raised starting with Hope Church, Manheim, and St. Luke's, Lebanon: two churches that, over their history, have worked together since the days of their founding and are now in two separate Dioceses in Central Pennsylvania, and Bethlehem," the information page states. 

The most recent effort was Phase III of a project known as Help, Healing & Hope. For the first two phases, the churches were able to raise $17,238.78 to purchase a much higher amount of medical debt.

"What's even better is that Phase I was funded by dozens of Episcopal Churches in both dioceses, as well as through a number of special offerings, personal donations, and support by faith communities," the group added.

"Phase III allows us to work together to keep this good thing going. We are honored to work with all of you on this common mission and are very appreciative of your generosity!"

Founded in 2014 and based in New York, RIP Medical Debt has often partnered with churches across the United States to raise money to eliminate medical debt for those in need.

Last year, the group worked with First-Plymouth Congregational Church of Lincoln, Nebraska, to raise more than $500,000 to pay off the medical bills of around 500 local households.

In 2020, the multisite Crossroads Church in Ohio raised enough funds to wipe out over $46 million in medical debt. In 2019, The Crossing in Missouri raised enough to pay off over $43 million in medical debt

"Because their medical debt is unlikely to be paid, collection agencies are willing to sell it off for one penny on the dollar," pastors at The Crossing explained in an announcement at the time. "This means that one dollar can buy $100 of medical debt. $100 can buy $10,000."

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