When Cynthia Thibodeau, of Wolcott, delivered her bundle of joy she couldn’t have been happier. But she never imagined that life-changing experience would result in a huge financial struggle.
"The pregnancy, the labor, the delivery, the hospital, they were wonderful. I couldn't have asked for better care. They were excellent,” said Cynthia Thibodeau.
Baby Olivia was born in August 2016.
Thibodeau said she has health insurance and all of her deductibles were paid. But that wasn't enough to cover the cost of her pregnancy and trips to the doctor's office. The medical bills quickly started piling up.
"Right now, we're upward towards $150,000 in medical debt," Thibodeau said. She met with a bankruptcy attorney to discuss her options, but has not yet filed.
Medical debt is the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States, according to data from credit agencies and the federal government. Roughly, 43 million people are struggling with unpaid medical bills and the NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations, parent of NBC Connecticut, is making a donation to a nonprofit to forgive $1 million in Connecticut medical debt.
"I'm scared. I don't know if tomorrow when I get something in the mail or somebody at my door saying they're suing me for this money or if a lien is going to get put on my house,” said Thibodeau.
Craig Antico works to help people like Thibodeau.
"They're telling us, ‘I can't put food on the table. I can't get my prescriptions. I can't access a doctor.’ I have people that say they won't even go to the doctor anymore because of the expense,” said Antico, CEO of RIP Medical Debt.
Antico, a former debt collector, created RIP Medical debt, a nonprofit that buys medical debt, forgives it, and closes the account. He said many of those cases involve patients who should never have been charged in the first place.
"So what ends up happening is these people get billed when they should be getting their care for free and we find that about a third of all the accounts that we buy, should have been qualified as charity care,” said Antico.
This year RIP plans to buy $1 billion in medical debt.
Buying medical debt is not uncommon. Medical debt is bought and re-sold for pennies on the dollar. It's similar to how mortgages are resold in financial markets.
Hospitals or doctors who don’t have time to chase down debtors can sell their patients’ unpaid bills to debt collectors, who can buy $1,000 of debt for just $10. Then they pressure the customer to pay the full debt, often damaging their credit and livelihood in the process.
"We're one illness away. One accident away from financial ruin in this country,” Antico said.
That's what Cynthia Thibodeau wants to avoid. She worries she may never see a light at the end of her financial tunnel.
"It's hard,” said Thibodeau. “The longer it's gone on, the harder that it is, because I don't see any end in sight."
NBC Connecticut wants to help other local families who are suffering like the Thibodeaus.
At least 674 people in Connecticut will receive yellow envelopes from the nonprofit informing them that some of their medical debt has been forgiven.
You can’t sign up or apply. The selection process is completely random. But if you receive an envelope, we’d love to hear from you.
You can also make a donation to RIP Medical Debt and help pay it forward to erase more medical debt. Just a few dollars can make a big difference in the lives of local families struggling with their medical bills.