The political organization led by Democratic titan Stacey Abrams is branching out into paying off medical debts.
Fair Fight Action on Wednesday told The Associated Press that it has donated $1.34 million from its political action committee to the nonprofit organization RIP Medical Debt to wipe out debt with a face value of $212 million that is owed by 108,000 people in Georgia, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
CEO Lauren Groh-Wargo of Fair Fight Action said that paying off medical debt is another facet of the group’s advocacy seeking expansion of Medicaid coverage in the 12 states that have refused to expand the health insurance to all poorer adults.
“What is so important about this is the tie between Medicaid expansion and just crushing medical debt,” Groh-Wargo said.
Of the states targeted, Arizona and Louisiana have expanded Medicaid.
Fair Fight said letters will be sent to those whose debts have been absolved to notify them. The purchase will forgive the debt of nearly 69,000 people in Georgia, more than 27,000 people in Arizona, more than 8,000 people in Louisiana, and about 2,000 people apiece in Mississippi and Alabama.
The group has raised more than $100 million since Abrams founded it after her 2018 loss in the Georgia governor’s race. Fair Fight has been most noted for its advocacy of voting rights, but has also been pushing for broader health care. The group launched ads last week demanding that Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp add Medicaid expansion to the list of topics that Georgia lawmakers will consider in a special session starting next week to redraw electoral districts. Democrats are hoping Abrams will run against Kemp again in 2022, a narrow loss that launched her into political stardom.
“I know firsthand how medical costs and a broken healthcare system put families further and further in debt,” Abrams said in a statement. “Across the sunbelt and in the South, this problem is exacerbated in states like Georgia where failed leaders have callously refused to expand Medicaid, even during a pandemic.”
RIP Medical Debt said Fair Fight is giving the third-largest donation in its history. Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott gave the group $50 million last year. The group has aided more than 3 million people since it was founded in 2014, typically buying bundles of medical debt at steep discounts from the face value. The bills often are purchased from collection agencies that have been trying to get debtors to pay for years. The group has wiped out debt with a face value of more than $5.3 billion.
Allison Sesso, executive director of RIP Medical Debt, said such liabilities often drive people into bankruptcy, can deter people from seeking needed medical care, and can lead to wages being garnished or liens filed on property.
“I wouldn’t underestimate the mental anguish that people have from medical debt,” Sesso said.
Sesso said her group is not just pursuing debt abolishment “but thinking about how we can improve the system nationwide,” trying to advocate that hospitals should do more to make charity care available. She also said research shows states that expanded Medicaid have lower rates of medical debt.
“We are not the permanent solution,” Sesso said. “There does need to be a larger solution around what we do about medical debt.”
Groh-Wargo said the money was given by donors for political action, but said the money represents “only a small percentage” of what Fair Fight has raised.
“I think of this as politically tithing to help the community we are advocating for and with,” Groh-Wargo said, saying the group has done smaller scale charitable efforts.