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Where does debt come from? How does it get so out of hand? And why is it such a difficult topic to discuss?On South Carolina Public Radio's InDebted, host Scott Morgan explores the issue of debt in the Palmetto State, including medical debt, student loan debt, short-term loan services, financial literacy, and more. According to research by the Urban Institute on the amount of personal debt burden across the U.S., eight of the top 50 counties with the most debt were in South Carolina, with more than half of the residents living with excessive debt. Join us for a deep dive into the factors that make our state one of the worst places for debt in the country and the stories of real South Carolinians living in this ecosystem of debt.Interested in sharing your personal story with debt? Learn more about our InDebted Profiles series here.

InDebted: How RIP Medical Debt bailed a Spartanburg woman out of hospital debt

If you get an envelope in the mail that looks like this, open it. Terri Logan thought her four letters from RIP Medical Debt were bills. instead, they were debt relief.
Scott Morgan
South Carolina Public Radio
If you get an envelope in the mail that looks like this, open it. Terri Logan thought her four letters from RIP Medical Debt were bills. instead, they were debt relief.

Terri Logan wasn’t opening her mail. She wasn’t in a good place in life – recently separated from her husband, mired in bills, depressed, and, critically, unable to get out from under $1.400 in hospital bills that she incurred after her daughter was born prematurely.

But the mail kept coming. Bills. Solicitations. Junk. And, critically, four yellow envelopes.

“Prior to opening them, I thought it was a bill,” Logan says. “And I I'm like, ‘Oh my God, who is sending me four of the same bill at one time?’”

As it turns out, quite the opposite was happening. The envelopes were from a nonprofit organization in New York State called RIP Medical Debt, and the letters inside those four yellow parcels told her that her nagging medical debt was forgiven.

At its simplest, RIP Medical Debt buys medical debts with donated money. For every $100 donated, RIP Medical Debt can buy up to $10,000 in old medical debts that have gone to collections.

This is especially important in a state like South Carolina, where medical debt in collections plagues more than one in five residents, according to data from the Urban Institute.

“Twenty-two percent of South Carolina residents have medical debt in collections, and that's compared to a national average of 13 percent,” says Allison Sesso, CEO and president of RIP Medical Debt. “The racial dynamics are also more pronounced in South Carolina. You have 20 percent of the white community that have medical debt in collections, compared to 28 percent communities of color Nationally, those percentages are 11 percent of white people and 14 percent of communities of color.”

Sesso says RIP Medical Debt is trying to be at least a “now” solution to the medical debt problem this country endures.

“We do not think that we are the long-term solution by any means,” she says. “But we know that people who have medical debt, today, cannot wait for government to take action.”

Sesso says that the way medical care is charged and funded is broken, as patients debate whether to even get care because they don’t want to run up high bills.

“People literally sit outside of ER waiting to see whether or not the pain will subside and whether or not they should be going through those doors,” she says. So RIP Medical Debt, she says, has tapped into a way to channel donations to help people who’ve been stung financially for having made the choice to get care.

For residents like Terri Logan, whose bills ran up despite insurance coverage paying part of her daughter’s NICU stay, those yellow envelopes provided a deep sense of relief and restored some of her struggling mental health.

She says her bills didn’t add up to a lot overall, but having them forgiven “meant a lot in that moment because I was low just in general. It was an encouraging moment for me, uh, in a time that I needed some kindness.”

Disclosure: The author is a monthly donor to RIP Medical Debt.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.