There are some special people in this world that embody the term “Good Samaritan.” This is certainly true of two friends from New York who are making charity their goal. Because of them, a number of New Yorkers found an early (and life-changing) holiday gift in their mailboxes this year.
Judith Jones and Carolyn Kenyon began raising funds for medical debt forgiveness– what began as a simple request to friends and family became a million-dollar effort! Now, Judith and Carolyn are paying off strangers’ medical bills. And they have more plans for the future!
Find out how the two women accomplished this, and why. Their story is a truly remarkable one!
Two friends accomplished a miracle.
Judith Jones and Carolyn Kenyon, both of Ithaca, NY, met through the Finger Lakes chapter of the Campaign for New York Health.
They’re a pair of charitable activists.
The Campaign for New York Health is a nonprofit organization working to pass the New York Health Act.
It’s all about healthcare.
Basically, the New York Health Act would establish a universal health care system within the state of New York, similar to Medicare or Canadian health care.
You know what they say about birds of a feather!
Carolyn and Judith both strongly believe in a single-payer health care system, and wanted to start a project together.
Every battle needs a rallying cry.
The two friends wanted to use their project to highlight problems within the current health care system.
So they picked one particularly big problem– medical debt.
And it IS a problem.
Millions of New Yorkers currently have health care plans that would bankrupt them in a medical emergency.
Isn’t the point of health care to avoid paying huge out-of-pocket fees?
Insurance fees are rising.
Private insurers have brought up the cost of fees by over 50% in the last 5 years alone.
Beyond that, millions don’t even have health care.
Over one million New Yorkers don’t have health insurance– and that has lead to unnecessary fatalities.
Good health insurance saves lives.
According to the New York Health Campaign, roughly 20,000 New Yorkers have died over the past decade due to their lack of health insurance.
In other words, those deaths could have been avoided.
Plus, New York’s spending stands out.
Currently, New York leads the country in how much it spends on health care– which is strange when you think about how many people aren’t covered.
In comparison to other countries, the US isn’t doing so great.
Although the United States spends over $3 trillion nationally on health insurance every year, we’re actually falling behind other high-income countries in terms of healthcare quality.
Take pregnancy, for example.
Alarmingly, maternal mortality rates in the U.S. are actually rising.
Meanwhile, every other country comparable to the U.S. is significantly reducing pregnancy-related deaths.
Financial barriers remain, even with insurance.
Despite having insurance, an estimated 1/3 of patients fail to get treatment, or go without their prescribed medications, because the accompanying deductibles and co-pays are too high.
Private health insurance companies are big spenders.
With all the competition to score more health insurance subscribers, private companies end up spending a ton of money on administration.
Think about the money.
Private insurance companies can spend as much as 20% of every dollar on administration, while Medicare only spends 2 cents of each dollar.
That means that billions are being spent on things other than actually caring for patients.
Even life expectancy is shifting.
Sure, we’ve never had a wider range of treatments and ways to stay healthy as we do now.
But what good is all that if people don’t have access? When you look at the richest and the poorest people in the U.S., the disparity is clear.
Life expectancy is now also about how much money you have.
It’s true: the richest 1% of men live, on average, 15 years longer than the poorest 1%.
For women, it’s 10 years longer.
So, what are we to do?
In a system designed to profit, more so than actually provide affordable health care, Judith and Carolyn decided to fundraise and combat medical debts.
Carolyn Kenyon also had personal reasons.
She’s a psychotherapist, and one of her clients was forced to declare bankruptcy over unmanageable and mounting medical bills.
Seeing their struggle, she knew she had to act.
“I mean, you couldn’t meet a sweeter, kinder, harder-working person,” Carolyn told NPR.
“That touched my heart and was part of my motivation to raise the money for the debt relief.”
Kenyon is also well-aware of what medical debt does to a person.
“No one in this country should experience medical debt,” she said.
“And how it affects their lives, their credit record – it can prevent them from getting employment, prevent them from getting a mortgage. They should not be experiencing that.”
So the two began reaching out.
First, they sent off emails to friends and family, looking to raise money and erase some amount of medical debt among New Yorkers.
And they did pretty well.
That initial fundraising campaign ended with them having raised $12,500!
But they didn’t stop there.
After raising the money, Carolyn and Judith reached out to a nonprofit organization called R-I-P Medical Debt.
The organization helped significantly.
In fact, the nonprofit was able to leverage that $12,500 and end up forgiving $1.5 million worth of medical debt among New Yorkers.
That’s pretty incredible.
And according to the two women who started it all, the experience has also taught them a lot about how medical debt affects people.
Judith Jones paid special attention to young adults.
“These are the young people who have just come off their parents’ health insurance. They have chosen not to buy a policy. They may be well-saddled with their college debt,” Judith said.
“And they get that illness or that accident. And now they have an enormous amount of medical debt on top of their college debt. And that’s just no way to start a life.”
They’ve gotten positive feedback, too.
According to Judith, the feedback comes “from a lot of friends and even acquaintances and people I don’t even know who are telling us that they know someone who– not who got the letter but who is struggling with the problem of medical debt. And so it’s felt rewarding.”
And the two friends aren’t done, yet.
They’ve begun working together on a new fundraising campaign, and their new focus is on veterans.
Best of luck to their future campaigns!
“We’re actually in the process of setting this up today,” Judith said of their veterans’ fundraising campaign.
“We think that a lot of people don’t understand that veterans accumulate a great deal of serious debt and that that also is a detriment to establishing a new life. So we have a project that is now labeled Cure Vet Debt.”
Share this amazing story, and spread the spirit of giving just in time for the holidays!