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Church eliminates nearly $2 million medical debt for families

One church's efforts eliminated almost $2 million worth of medical debt for nearly 2,000 families living in West Michigan. The medical debt was paid off by the nonprofit organization RIP Medical Debt, through the efforts of Grand Rapids First church in Wyoming, Michigan.

Grand Rapids First paid pennies on the dollar, making a $15,000 donation to eliminate the $1.83 million in debt with the help of RIP Medical Debt. The New York-based group buys up medical debt on the secondary market and then forgives it. Thanks to the donation made by the church, 1,899 families in Ionia, Ottawa, Kent and Allegan Counties will have their debts forgiven in full, executive pastor and CFO Doug Tuttle told CBS News.

The largest debt owed by one individual was under three different accounts totaling $75,581. "The medical debt is greater than $180 million in Michigan," said Tuttle. "If more individuals would be able to step up and help it would truly make a difference here and beyond."

Pastor Sam shared the announcement with the church on Sunday that, “We can be Peacemakers. Just as Jesus forgave and canceled the debt of our sins, we also canceled the debt of those in our community.”

Posted by Grand Rapids First on Sunday, June 30, 2019

The church doesn't know the identities of the individuals it helped, due to the the health insurance privacy law known as HIPPA, but it was able to direct the aid to residents of specific counties. Also, since the gift is not directed to a single person, there is no taxable income to claim. Tuttle described the privacy and no-tax aspects of the donation as a "double benefit."

"We have a great lead pastor who has constantly filled the need in our community," said Tuttle. "It's about displaying the love that Jesus showed for us."

Inspired by Covenant Church in Carrollton, Texas, Grand Rapids First head pastor Sam Rijfkogel announced the gift at church on Sunday.

"When pastor Sam shared it with the congregation it was some shock," Tuttle told CBS News. "But the church was overwhelmingly excited and thankful to give back to the community."

According to a 2016 Kaiser Family Foundation study, medical debts were responsible for half of bankruptcy filings, and 52% of debt collection actions in the U.S. involved medical debts. 

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