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Church clears nearly $4 million in medical bills for 3,500 debtors in region

Shelly Sulser

J-Ad News Services

 

When 3,500 people in five counties received letters saying their medical debt had been paid in full, many of them called for verification.

Pastor James Sunnock of Victory Life Church in Battle Creek confirmed it. In fact, he announced that good news to his entire congregation on Sunday, Sept. 29.

It was their $3.89-million grand finale of the congregation's Build Our City campaign.

Some people called him in disbelief.

“We have gotten some comments,” Sunnock said. “There was one family even within our church that we helped. Otherwise, they’re all strangers.

“We wanted to do something good without any expectations or payback.”

Erasing debts of up to $20,000 to $50,000 each was the biggest contribution by the church in 18 years, he said.

Some of the people they helped are from Barry County – as well as Calhoun, Branch, Eaton and part of Kalamazoo counties.

Sunnock said he does not know how many families in each county were helped.

Paying off all their medical debts was made possible by a partnership between Victory Life Church and RIP Medical Debt, a non-profit organization based in New York.

Medical debt contributes to two-thirds of bankruptcies according to the American Journal of Public Health.

One of the reasons why the church could act on this idea is that, after a medical provider has been unable to collect the debt for a period of time, it is sold to a second-party bill collector like RIP Medical Debt for pennies on the dollar.

So, “instead of badgering them (the debtors), they came to us, saying, ‘We’ll pay and they’ll get a letter, no strings attached,’” Sunnock said. “To the individual, it was a full amount.

“As far as the individuals knew, they owed $20,000 to $50,000 -- but we paid it off for a fraction of that.

“Victory Life Church paid the bill.”

RIP Medical Debt works with non-profit organizations, selling debts for what it paid plus a small administration fee in return, according to Sunnock.

To be eligible for repayment from RIP, the debtor must be earning less than twice the federal poverty level (about $25,000 a year for an individual), have debts that are 5 percent or more of their annual income and have more debt than assets.

“We took money from our administration budget and our advertising budget and took those dollars and partnered with RIP Medical and, for pennies on the dollar, we were able to hand-pick ZIP codes and families and were, literally, able to pay off their debt 100 percent.”

Victory Life Church’s heart, Sunnock said in a press release, is to “bring a message of hope.”

“We were praying for a way to truly impact our community,” Sunnock said. “There are so many people with no hope, looking for a miracle in their life.

“For these 3,500 people, God used us to be a part of that miracle. … Every week, we see people’s lives changed and transformed.”

Victory Life Church is at 6892 D Drive North in Battle Creek.

 

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