Diocese of Pittsburgh parish’s campaign relieves $7.2M in medical debt, far exceeding expectations

Posted Feb 15, 2023

[Diocese of Pittsburgh] An updated report reveals that one Pittsburgh-area church was able to eliminate nearly $7.2 million in medical debt across all of Pennsylvania, more than doubling its initial expectations.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Mt. Lebanon partnered last fall with RIP Medical Debt, a New York-based non-profit that buys large quantities of debt at a steep discount and then erases that debt with no further obligation or consequence for the individuals who benefit.

St. Paul’s raised several thousand dollars beyond its $15,000 donation target and received an additional $15,000 matching gift from an anonymous parishioner.

Based on RIP’s basic formula where every dollar raised pays off $100 in debt, the parish then reported that it expected to relieve just over $3 million in debt, mostly in Allegheny County.

RIP recently informed St. Paul’s that it had completed the purchase of medical debts that could be erased through the parish’s donation. The organization was able to secure more debt for less money and used St. Paul’s $34,600 to relieve a total of $7,197,077 in debts well beyond southwestern Pennsylvania.

In all, 8,748 individuals in all but two of the commonwealth’s 67 counties had their medical debt forgiven through the St. Paul’s campaign.

“Our campaign with RIP Medical Debt flows out of our church’s commitment to helping to serve those in need in our community,” said the Rev. Noah H. Evans, rector of St. Paul’s.  “We also hope that it is one step in creating a more just society with greater equity in healthcare.”

Among the counties where the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh has parishes: 79 Allegheny County residents received a total of $12,887 in debt forgiveness; in Armstrong County, $64,773 in debt relief was shared among three recipients; in Cambria County, $85,576 in debt was erased, benefiting 10 recipients; in Indiana County, 12 individuals with a total $486 of debts were forgiven; four Somerset County residents received a total of $95,718 in forgiveness; in Washington County, 42 recipients saw $6,438 in debt abolished; and 24 recipients in Westmoreland County benefited from $30,232 in debt forgiveness.

In other southwestern Pennsylvania counties, a total debt of $16,282 was erased for 17 recipients in Beaver County; $657,297 in debts held by nine Butler County individuals were abolished; and seven Greene County residents with debts totaling $41,096 were forgiven.

The greatest single impact of the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church campaign was felt in Crawford County (Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania), where the average medical debt for five individuals approached a half-million dollars.

Earlier in 2022, two other churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh – St. Thomas in Canonsburg and St. David’s in Peters Township – teamed up in a similar campaign with RIP to abolish $1.68 million in debt for 1,615 recipients.

As a sign of the effectiveness of such strategies and the ongoing urgent need, the Pittsburgh City Council and Pennsylvania General Assembly are at various stages of approving the use of public funds for medical debt relief.