By Lisa Cannon Green
A Texas megachurch that celebrated Easter by paying off people’s medical bills may be onto something.
Covenant Church’s $100,000 donation to a nonprofit called RIP Medical Debt helped wipe out more than $10.5 million in medical debt owed by Dallas-area households, according to The Stream.
Debt relief can help meet a serious need for hospital patients. New research shows a hospital stay has long-term financial impact for many Americans—far beyond the cost of the hospital bills.
“On average, people in their 50s who are admitted to the hospital will experience a 20 percent drop in income that persists for years,” the New York Times reports.
The risk of going bankrupt rises with a hospital stay, the Times says—although separate research reported by the Washington Post concludes medical events account for only 4 percent of bankruptcies.
Even if people aren’t left bankrupt, illness or injury may prevent them from returning to a full-time job or the type of work they had done in the past. They may not have paid sick leave or disability coverage.
Amy Finkelstein, an MIT economist and author of a paper about the research, told the New York Times she was surprised: “I hadn’t thought about the idea that even with the best gold-plated, fancy health insurance, you could still have a lot of economic risk.”
RIP Medical Debt, a New York-based charity founded in 2014, buys unpaid medical debt for pennies on the dollar and then forgives it.
“The idea of debt forgiveness goes all the way back to biblical times of a ‘Jubilee,’ when all debts are canceled and all those in bondage are set free,” the group notes on its website.
Stephen Hayes, pastor of Covenant Church, has personal experience with the issue, he told The Stream. Hayes was hit by a car and seriously injured at 17, and the church helped his family with the medical bills.
“If [local families] fall on hard times, we want to help get them back on their feet as soon as possible,” he told The Stream.
For churches, hospitalizations can be an opportunity to teach generosity and caring to their congregations—not only while a patient is ill but also for the long term.
People who’ve been in the hospital can use help from those around them, and it doesn’t always have to come in the form of dollars and cents.
“Scripture reveals that generosity is not exclusively about money. We are to be generous with all the resources God has given us,” says Art Rainer, author of The Money Challenge: 30 Days of Discovering God’s Design for You and Your Money.
“Teach about the need to be generous with finances—but also teach generosity with homes, hobbies, abilities, and networks.
“Show churchgoers how they can go through life with their hands open, ready to respond when God moves them to give.”
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LISA CANNON GREEN (@lisacgreen) is senior editor of Facts & Trends.