Occupy Wall Street activists marched over the Brooklyn Bridge last April, demanding change in the healthcare industry.
Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, a grassroots organization called Strike Debt claims it has bought and abolished over $1 million in medical debt.
The targets of Strike Debt’s Rolling Jubilee campaign were patients who owed around $900 each for emergency room visits in Kentucky and Indiana. On Thursday, the Occupy offshoot said it bought and then forgave more than 1,000 people’s debts for “pennies on the dollar,” according to a press release.
Their purpose is to call attention to a “predatory” lending system, according to their website. If a hospital is unable to get patients to pay up, it usually sells this debt to a collection agency. And since chances of actually collecting are pretty low at that point, the agency is able to snatch up the debt for a much lower price than the original amount on a patient’s bill. The agency then takes over the job of hounding the debtor for money.
“People are made to suffer twice, first from injury or illness and then financial extortion,” the Rolling Jubilee team stated.
Occupy Wall Street’s Strike Debt project solicits online donations that are used to buy discounted medical debt so that it can bail out randomly-chosen debtors.
“It is an industry designed to confuse, overwhelm, and exploit,” they said.
The team has raised more than $500,000 since it launched the campaign last November. The $1 million in debt announced Thursday was funded by $21,000 in donations, CNN Money reports.
The randomly selected beneficiaries will receive letters in the mail stating that their debt has been forgiven. The patients’ names were not released, to ensure privacy.
But this is just a drop in the bucket. Since many personal bankruptcies in America are connected to medical bills, the group is demanding the cancelation of all the country’s medical debts. They also cite the exorbitant cost of medical school that leaves many doctors in debt at the beginning of their careers. The group claims that this educational debt shunts doctors into lucrative specialties.
Strike Debt is launching a national week of activism. While the main protests are based in New York, solidarity protests will take place in Los Angeles, Baltimore and Baton Rouge, La.