Church pays off $1.62-million of medical debt for families

More than 1,000 Lakeland families received an unexpected piece of mail that came with a great gift ahead of Thanksgiving.

Access Church in Lakeland paid off $1.62-million worth of overdue medical bills for 1,315 families last week, church leaders said. The church worked with the New York-based company RIP Medical Debt to find the families in the most need and help wipe out their past-due debt.

“We found out that there’s over $3 million in deferred medical debt in our city,” said Access Church’s lead pastor Jason Burns to his congregation on November 17. “Now, this is medical debt way deep in collections, sitting on people’s credit reports, and this $3 million is owned by people who live at less than half of the federal poverty line.”

Last week, the church shared with its members just how much of a dent they helped put in those bills.

“So because of your generosity and because of your giving, we paid over half of it. We paid $1.62 million in medical debt,” said Burns.

Lakeland residents call the action incredible.

“Medical [care] is so expensive these days and hard to pay off. I mean, we just had a baby, and it’s expensive to do anything like that. So, I think it’s incredible,” said Hillary Carew of Lakeland.

It’s a relief those families discovered through letters in the mail sent out last week, in which Burns told his congregation, “Your debt has been paid because Access Church loves you.”

“Wow, that’s a really great thing to do. I know medical bills are something that are unexpected, and they can be quite high these days,” said Steve Aycock of Lakeland. “That would be a really nice gift this time of year. It would be something really special so it’s nice of the church to do that.”

Access Church leaders said they were able to pay $461,000 of medical bills in the 33803 Lakeland zip code.

They said they got the idea from a member earlier this year.