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Nonprofit clears 82,000 Ballad patients' medical debt

Nonprofit clears 82,000 Ballad patients' medical debt

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Ballad Health announced a new agreement with a New York-based nonprofit firm on Tuesday that will eliminate $277.9 million worth of non-governmental payer medical debt for 82,000 people previously served by Ballad.

RIP Medical Debt is a national nonprofit that uses donated funds to purchase medical debts belonging to financially burdened individuals, according to a written statement. RIP has historically acquired accounts from the secondary debt market, such as debt buyers and collection agencies, to forgive the acquired debt.

In July 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General issued an opinion allowing hospitals and physician groups to sell or donate debts directly to the firm for the purpose of abolishing a patient’s liability under certain conditions.

Ballad Health is the first health system that RIP has successfully worked with directly.

“Since the completion of our merger in 2018, Ballad Health has implemented a number of new policies and programs to reduce the cost of care for uninsured and underinsured individuals,” said Lynn Krutak, Ballad Health's chief financial officer. “It made sense for us to look at the RIP model to see if we could extend these efforts further.”

Ballad previously raised eligibility for full charity from 200% to 225% of the federal poverty limit, reducing charges for urgent care services 17% and increasing self-pay discounts to 85% off charges.

“We’ve screened more than 100,000 individuals in our service area for food and housing insecurity, exposure to domestic violence and other health-related social needs, and we’ve found again and again, many services exist to support these individuals and families, but as a system and community, we previously haven’t connected with them appropriately,” said Anthony Keck, chief population health officer for Ballad Health.

“By removing this burden of old debt, we hope to better engage with our patients, so they access care and other services when they need them without the fear of unmanageable expenses,” Keck said.

RIP Medical Debt works with donors, in this case, The Secular Society — a not-for-profit Blacksburg-based corporation — which purchased and abolished $76.5 million in medical debt for tens of thousands of Virginia residents who were Ballad Health patients.

Letters will be sent to 26,319 Virginians the week beginning June 21 informing them that they are no longer responsible for past medical debts, according to a written statement from The Secular Society. The letters explain the gift comes with no strings attached. The Secular Society sought to restore peace of mind and creditworthiness to people living in southwestern Virginia who incurred cumbersome medical debt when they sought the basic human right of health care, according to its statement.

The breakdown includes over 4,400 residents and $16.1 million in Washington County; $16.7 million for more than 6,000 residents of Wise County; over 1,500 residents and $5.6 million in Bristol, Virginia; 3,600 people and $9 million in Smyth County; and $6.6 million and 2,100 residents of Russell County, according to the TSS statement.

RIP Medical Debt has sent letters to eligible recipients that are expected to arrive by June 28. Each letter only applies to a single instance of debt, which means patients with more than one Ballad Health account outstanding that does not qualify for the charity care policy will still be responsible for those payments. Ballad Health encourages those individuals to reach out to the Ballad Health financial support team to determine if further assistance is available.

Patients who have outstanding accounts and believe they might be eligible for charity care should contact Ballad Health at 423-408-7400.

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