SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — A Jamesville teen is about to surprise a lot of people living in Onondaga, Madison, Oneida and Herkimer Counties who have been living under crushing medical debt.
Talia Zames raised $20,000 over a few months earlier this year and with the help of RIP Medical Debt has just wiped out $6.7 million in old medical bills.
Letters informing these people of the forgiven debt are landing in mailboxes any day now.
Zames tells NewsChannel 9 how her effort got started in the first place. “Way back in December my grandma saw an article about two women in Ithaca who erased about $1.5 million in medical debt. And so she shared the article with me and said this is incredible,” she says.
Even more, it triggered something in Zames, who quickly started Project Eraser, a fundraiser aimed at wiping out old medical debt.
She created a video to explain the effort, and included the story of her younger sister who unexpectedly spent a week in intensive care back in 2012. The bills, even with insurance, totaled tens of thousands of dollars.
“When I first reached out to RIP, I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” Zames recalls.
RIP Medical Debt is a non-profit that helps people like Zames buy up and wipe out old medical bills for people living two times below the federal poverty line.
“This could have been the biggest weight of their lives. This could have been the biggest struggle of their lives just because they went out and wanted medical assistance,” Zames tells NewsChannel 9.
The way it works is this. When you can’t pay your huge medical bills, it goes to a collection agency, and when you can’t pay them, as a way of making some money, they sell it for pennies on the dollar to the next collection agency, and down the line it goes.
Zames explains, “RIP buys the medical debt from collection agencies and just forgives it and people get letters in the mail. There’s no tax consequences absolutely nothing it’s just gone, they don’t have to do anything else the debt is just entirely gone.”
The teen planned to raise $15,000 to erase about $1 million in medical debt. She collected about $20,000 and with RIP’s help, was able to wipe out $6.7 million in medical debt, because some of those bills were so old they were bought up for next to nothing.
“That also means these people have been struggling with the crushing effect of having so much debt for potentially decades and all of a sudden, really soon, they’re going to get a letter in the mail and it’s just gone. The thing that’s been ruining their lives has just vanished, so I can’t wait for people to have that experience.” Zames says.