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RIP Medical Debt – Duo sets out have over $1 million forgiven

By Melissa Wagoner

When John Dallum discovered there was a nonprofit whose sole purpose is to relieve the medical debt of millions of Americans, he knew he had to help.

“One interesting thing about Oregon is, the program has never been started here,” Dallum – a former Oregon Senator and House Representative – said.

In fact, upon contacting the organization – RIP Medical Debt – he discovered the amount owing in Oregon was a complete unknown.

“But RIP has a bank of lawyers…” Dallum said, describing his initial request, which uncovered over $7 million in qualifying loans – ones held by borrowers earning less than four times the poverty level and totaling five percent or more of their annual income.

“It’s secondary debt,” Dallum explained. “The debt is sent to a collection agency and then those people sell it to a secondary market.”

The debt gets sold again, often for pennies on the dollar. That’s how RIP Medical Debt and its supporters have been able to pay off some $7 billion, helping over four million families, in just eight years.

“Because giving one dollar is like giving $100,” Dallum explained. Meaning, all of Oregon’s qualifying medical debt, a sum now estimated at around $7.2 million, could be wiped out for only $72,000. In Dallum’s opinion, that’s an extremely obtainable sum.

But, to start with, he and his project partner – friend and fellow Immanuel Lutheran Church member Donna Rue – have set the drive’s initial goal relatively low, at just $15,000 which would still pay off $1.5 million in debt.

And that’s no small sum, especially to the beneficiaries who often experience emotional relief upon learning their debts have been paid, as well as higher credit scores and an increase in financial security that can enable them to rebuild their lives.

“When cancer strikes, you use your life savings just to maintain your home and food on the table for your three children,” Tonya, a RIP Medical Debt recipient wrote to the organization upon learning her debt had been paid. “As a single mom, my goal was to stay alive and see them graduate…”

Stories like that one that have motivated both Dallum and Rue to visit 32 churches in the Silverton area in the hopes that they, too, will take up the cause.

“We gave the churches the option to start whenever they want to,” Dallum said.

But the culmination date will be the same, Sunday, Jan. 15 – the date of the Hope and Healing Celebration at Immanuel Lutheran Church.

“If we meet our goal this will just be a celebration,” Dallum said, describing the nondenominational event, which will include guests, music and refreshments. 

“This could make for a good New Year.”

Hope and Healing Silverton Christians United Campaign

Primary goal: $15,000 (which would abolish $1.5 million in Oregon medical debt).

Secondary: $72,000 (which could eliminate Oregon’s qualifying debt).

Online contributions: www.ripmedicaldebt.org/campaign/hope-and-healing-campaign

In-person contributions: Hope and Healing Celebration (a non-denominational service) on Jan. 15, 6 to 8 p.m., Immanuel Lutheran Church, 303 N. Church St., Silverton or through other participating congregations.

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