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Former Alabama gov, nonprofit partner to abolish medical debt in Black Belt region

The medical debt nonprofit RIP Medical Debt will be abolishing medical debt for thousands in Alabama’s Black Belt region thanks to a partnership made possible by former Gov. Don Siegelman (D).

The partnership will relieve a total of $4,193,799.11 for 5,411 residents in Alabama, according to Siegelman. This debt was bought out by RIP Medical Debt through a donation of roughly $24,000 from local entrepreneur Bart McCorquodale, an acquaintance of Siegelman’s, who runs a moving and decorating company out of Birmingham.

“The donation from Mr. McCorquodale not only cleared medical debt for people living in Alabama’s ‘Black Belt’ region, but also for those in Alabama who live in areas demographically identical to Alabama’s Black Belt, including Jefferson, Madison, Montgomery, and Mobile counties,” a statement from Siegelman read.

This latest initiative came from a conversation in September between Siegelman, McCorquodale and Gary Furr, an Alabama pastor, on improving health care in the state’s Black Belt. They initially met to discuss efforts to expand Medicaid in the state.

Siegelman, being friends with someone connected to RIP Medical Debt, put together the plan to relieve debt for the most underserved parts of Alabama.

“This gift is given in the hope that by paying off this burden it will lead to expanded Medicaid, and better medical emergency facilities and to solutions to keep this cycle of debt from repeating,” Siegelman said in a statement. “Much of this debt could’ve been avoided if Alabama had expanded Medicaid.”

The Black Belt of the U.S. Southeast is a stretch of land distinguished by its fertile black soil. The quality of the soil led to plantations being established in this area which in turn brought high concentrations of enslaved Black Americans. Today, Black Americans make up a high percentage of the population in this area.

RIP Medical Debt operates by buying out medical debt from hospitals and abolishing it for eligible patients. The organization has so far abolished more than $10 billion worth of debt. Patients cannot apply for debt forgiveness, but they instead will receive notice from the organization that their debt has been bought out and will never be collected.

The charity has launched debt forgiveness campaigns across the country including in Ohio, Arizona, Florida, Texas and New York.

A few years ago RIP Medical Debt may not have been able to operate this widely as it requires local hospitals to be willing to negotiate the sale of their debts. But co-founder Jerry Ashton told The Hill that the organization has since gained far more notice that has allowed it to expand.

“We’re being noticed, obviously, by a lot more people, and where hospitals used to ignore us —we have 23 hospitals, that we’re in conversation with us across the country,” said Ashton.

Ashton said his organization is open to working with “anybody and everybody” interested in relieving medical debts in their communities.

“The process is you go to RIP Medical Debt, and you email them and say, ‘I would like to create a campaign or I would like to make a donation,'” Ashton explained. “In either case, someone will then contact you and start the process of discovering who you are, where you are, if the debt is available, what the pricing would be.”

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