Several local United Church of Christ congregations have contributed to a fund that abolished more than $26 million in medical debt for families and first-responders in New England.
The donations are part of an ongoing effort by the UCC to wipe out what can be crippling medical debt for families and individuals, the mainline Protestant denomination said in an announcement this week. The program has now abolished a total of $51.8 million in medical debt throughout the country, according to the UCC.
The Rev. Peter-Michael Preble, minister of the Second Congregational Church of Beverly, said the effort fits with UCC’s belief that health insurance “is a right, not a privilege.”
“We believe that everyone is entitled to health insurance, and that the crippling debt because of medical issues keeps people from getting jobs, getting apartments,” said Preble, whose church contributed $1,000. “We looked at this as one thing of many that we as a church could get behind to help people get to that next level.”
The Rev. Mike Duda of First Church in Wenham noted that every $1 donated to the effort eliminates $100 of medical debt. The donations are sent to the New York-based nonprofit RIP Medical Debt, which buys up medical debt for pennies on the dollar, according to the UCC.
“It’s a great way for the church to reach out to people in a pretty amazing way,” Duda said. “Rather than giving someone $100 to help them pay their rent, you take $100 and you pay down $10,000 worth of debt.”
First Church in Wenham has contributed $2,000 to the effort, Duda said.
The individual churches do not know which families or individuals benefit from their donations. The recipients receive letters telling them that their medical debt has been forgiven.
“We’re not looking for something in return,” Preble said. “We do it because as believers and followers of Jesus this is something we’re called to do.”
Other local churches that have donated include Tabernacle Congregational in Salem; Immanuel Congregational in Beverly; Second Congregational in Boxford; First Church and Maple Street Congregational in Danvers; First Church in Ipswich; First Church of Christ in Marblehead; First Church in Swampscott; and The Congregational Church of Topsfield.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.