Group Raises $622,000 to Cancel $14.7 Million in Medical Debt for 2,700 People

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Members of Occupy Wall Street have shifted their activism from street protests to raising money to alleviate the medical debts of thousands of Americans.


Rolling Jubilee, a creation of Occupy’s Strike Debt group, has purchased $14.7 million owed by individuals, largely as a result of medical expenses.


Remarkably, the group managed to do this while spending only $400,000 of the more than $622,000 it has raised so far for the debt-relief cause.


It did so because the debts were purchased through the “secondary debt market,” where creditors offload unpaid debts to third parties for pennies on the dollar.


The $14.7 million buy-out was made through a series of three or four separate purchases. The most recent purchase, in the amount of $13.5 million, relieved the medical debt of 2,693 people residing in 45 states and Puerto Rico.


Andrew Ross, a member of Strike Debt and professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University, said the group originally expected to raise $50,000 to buy up $1 million in debts at a ratio of about 20 to 1.


“In fact we’ve been able to buy debt a lot more cheaply than that,” he told The Guardian.


Ross said the project was also established for public education purposes, realizing that the nearly $15 million in debt represents “just a tiny drop in the secondary debt market.”

“Our purpose in doing this, aside from helping some people along the way – there's certainly many, many people who are very thankful that their debts are abolished – our primary purpose was to spread information about the workings of this secondary debt market,” he said.


“So when you get called up by the debt collector, and you're being asked to pay the full amount of your debt, you now know that the debt collector has bought your debt very, very cheaply … as cheaply as we bought it,” Ross added. “And that gives you moral ammunition to have a different conversation with the debt collector. It changes the psychology of the debtor, knowing this.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Occupy Wall Street Activists Buy $15m of Americans' Personal Debt (by Adam Gabbatt, The Guardian)

Occupy's Plan To Cancel Consumer Debt Has Been A Big Success So Far (by Adam Taylor, Business Insider)

Rolling Jubliee

Medical Debt Collectors Accused of Bullying Emergency Room Patients and Others (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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