Why a Seattle TV station bought $1M worth of medical debt

KIRO-TV, a CBS-affiliated TV station in Seattle, recently paid $12,000 for $1 million worth of medical debt that belongs to more than 1,000 people in the station's viewing area, according to Poynter.

When healthcare providers are unable to collect payment on medical bills, they sometimes sell the debt to collection agencies, often for as little 1 cent for each dollar owed. Although KIRO followed the same procedures as many collection agencies and purchased the medical debt at a discounted rate, the TV station doesn't intend to collect payment.

KIRO was inspired to buy then forgive the medical debt after reporting about a woman who was diagnosed with cancer and having trouble paying her medical bills. To avoid prying into viewers' medical histories, KIRO contracted with RIP Medical Debt, a charity that buys and forgives medical debt for needy patients. RIP sent letters to the more than 1,000 viewers in the Seattle area, informing them KIRO had helped pay their medical bills.

RIP Medical Debt is the same organization comedian John Oliver partnered with when he formed a debt collection business in 2016 and bought then forgave nearly $15 million in medical debt, according to Poynter.  

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