TV stations routinely contribute to their communities in a myriad of ways. Food drives, grants to nonprofits, telethons to help disaster victims, clothing drives for the poor, pet adoption campaigns, and so many other programs that help either individuals or large segments of people in their markets.
But recently, a new idea used by some stations is being adopted; paying off medical bills for people in their markets.
I first heard about this when KIRO, the CBS affiliate in Seattle owned by Cox, relieved the burden of more than $1 million in medical debt owed by 1,000 people in Western Washington.
A few months later, the NBC/Telemundo stations announced their goal to abolish $1 billion of medical debt in 2018 for people in their markets.
The efforts all seem to work the same way. The stations purchase $1 million worth of medical debt from RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit tackling the medical debt crisis in the country, for about $12,000.
WFTV, Orlando’s ABC affiliate, and like KIRO in Seattle, owned by Cox, is paying off $1 million of medical debt for 1,000 people.
Those individuals, whose identity remains anonymous to WFTV, will receive a letter in the mail informing them that their debt has been paid.
Todd Ulrich, WFTV’s consumer investigator, has been uncovering the complicated system under which medical debt can be sold to collection agencies.
“The debt is often sold multiple times and for pennies on the dollar,” said Ulrich.
“But the balance owed can grow at 12% interest. Under that scenario the debt almost doubles in just six years, which forces some of our most vulnerable neighbors into extreme hardship.”
“Todd Ulrich has been making a difference in the lives of Central Floridians for decades,” said Matt Parcell, WFTV’s news director.
“This is some of the most impactful reporting he and Channel 9 have ever done.”
Since the story aired and was posted online, there has been an extraordinary response by viewers wanting to assist neighbors in need.
As a result, WFTV has created a donation page on wftv.com that allows members of the community to make donations toward paying off medical debt for individuals across Central Florida.