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Nice Time! Minnesota Nurses Buy And Forgive $2.6 Million In Patients' Medical Debt
You're welcome. Now please stop hugging me. Please? [Image from 'Ask Fluffle Puff' ]
A year ago, members of the Minnesota Nurses Association, the union for the state's hospital nurses, started a long strike against five Twin Cities hospitals belonging to Allina Health. It lasted nine months before the hospitals and the nurses agreed to a new contract last November. To mark the anniversary of the start of the strike this month, the union announced it would do a solid for Minnesota hospital patients: It will purchase and forgive $2.6 million in medical debts of needy patients, using contributions to the nursing association's charitable fund.
In a press release issued Monday, The MNA said it had purchased past due accounts of 1,800 families, joining with a New York-based nonprofit called RIP Medical Debt that specializes in finding and retiring medical debts that people can't afford to pay off. The organizations purchased the debt for pennies on the dollar, like debt collectors and speculators in debt do, but instead of getting rich, they just forgave the families' debts. The actual purchase price of the $2.6 million in debt was only about $28,000.
"Nurses are happy to allow these families to be free of their debt," said Mary Turner, MNA president. "They've had this medical debt hanging over their heads for two years or more. It's cost them their credit, pushed them toward bankruptcy, and hurt them in so many ways."
The original debts had already been written off by the hospitals or other providers, so the nurses' purchase took those debts out of the market for collections agencies. The details of who'll get the debt relief remain private, but the families will soon receive notification that their medical debts have been paid off.
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, who has sued medical debt collectors for unethical and illegal practices in the past, said
Medical bills are now the number one reason people are contacted by debt collectors. Even people with health insurance face unpaid medical bills due to the very high deductibles in many insurance policies [...] The Minnesota Nurses Association is generous to have relieved people from the weight of this debt.
Yes, this is as good a place as any to point out that in countries that have single-payer, non-profit-driven healthcare systems, which would be every industrialized nation but the USA, this sort of good news would be unnecessary. The MNA has been active in the fight to establish a statewide system of universal, single-payer health insurance for Minnesota. Also, you nerds will be delighted to know that the MNA first heard about RIP Medical Debt from a segment on Last Week With John Oliver in which the investigative comedian bought and forgave $15 million in medical debt, just like that:
Maybe this could become a thing! George Soros, instead of paying us to go to anti-Trump rallies that we'd go to anyway, maybe you could buy off some state's medical debt for your birthday. Or we could go to single payer and stop creating medical debt. It's a crazy thought, we know.
Ah, yes: This is also yet another chance to remind you all to call your senators to politely tell them their Obamacare repeal would return America to massive numbers of bankruptcies due to medical debt. The situation has been improved by the Affordable Care Act -- one estimate says medical bankruptcies have been cut by half -- but medical debt remains the number one cause of bankruptcy in America.
So let's have a round of applause for the Minnesota Nurses Association, and hope they've started a trend. Then let's see if we can't change our crazy system so no one has crippling medical debts. This shouldn't even be a thing. Don't weep for the medical debt collectors -- after the revolution, they can no doubt still find honest employment, perhaps in some line of work involving cleaning up vermin or hosing down former members of the Trump administration.
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