Americans owe an estimated $195 billion in medical debt, according to RIP Medical Debt, and that number only continues to grow by the day. Medical debt, or the fear of exorbitant bills, prevents many people across the country from getting the medical treatment they need.
“Medical debt is a huge burden on Americans,” says Daniel Lempert, the VP of Communications at RIP Medical Debt , a non-profit organization that helps alleviate medical debt for patients with outstanding medical debt. “People are choosing to pay rent or put food on the table. There’s also a mental health anguish that comes along with it. The stress of all that can actually make people sicker. We are also seeing people avoid going to the doctor, especially if they already owe medical debt, even though they might need to go back. People will seriously reconsider getting the healthcare they need for fear of having more debt.”
To help medical patients in California with an overwhelming amount of medical debt, RIP Medical Debt has partnered with cannabis companies Wellgreens and Pacific Stone. Wellgreens is a San Diego based cannabis dispensary that aims to de-stigmatize cannabis use. Pacific Stone is a cannabis cultivator company that single sources their flower. The partnership’s goal is to abolish $3 million of medical debt for people in California. “When I think of cannabis having started on the medical side, this is a really interesting way to go full circle and tie it all together with this collaboration,” says Skip Motsenbocker, CEO of Pacific Stone.
This partnership between the brands evolved organically, Mostenbocker says. Wellgreens was Pacific Stone’s number one supplier in San Diego leading to the store takeover, where RIP Medical Debt and Pacific Stone advertise their campaign in the Wellgreens stores. RIP Medical debt fit right in when Wellgreens and Pacific Stone decided they wanted to collaborate with a nonprofit to help their communities. “It’s a great way to say to the rest of the world ‘hey, cannabis isn’t a bad thing,’” says Motsenbocker. “We are out trying to do good things …. Everybody should have some sort of an affiliation with an organization that figures out unique ways to give back to the community.”
RIP Medical Debt buys medical debt at a discount in bulk, giving the organization the ability to translate every dollar donated to relieving $100 of medical debt, according to a press release about the partnership.
“What’s really amazing about it is the 100x multiplier,” Motsenbocker says. “For instance, we’ve kicked off the initial program to raise $30,000, but in that essence that $30,000 eradicates $3 million in medical debt.”
RIP Medical Debt buys patients’ debt in bulk from hospitals, connecting with people who need financial support anonymously. The hospital or partnering organization then contacts the patients telling them their medical debt has been paid off. “We are a HIPPA-compliant organization,” Lempert says. “So, we have proprietary software we use to identify, either with a hospital or a partner with the secondary debt market, we’ll scan the bulk debt they possess and scan the ones that meet our criteria. Households that earn less than four times the poverty level are the most in need.”
So far, RIP Medical Debt has erased more than $6 billion in medical debt across the country. According to their 2021–year-end report, “In 2021 RIP Medical Debt abolished $2.7 billion of medical debt for 1.3 million people.” RIP Medical Debt hopes to grow this number even more with their most recent partnership within the cannabis industry.
With cannabis still being criminalized and stigmatized, Luis Ituarte, Director of Licensing for Wellgreens says this partnership brings light to what the cannabis industry is about. “Cannabis still gets such a bad rep,” says Ituarte. “Not a lot of nonprofits open their doors for us. We aren’t the only dispensary that wants to give back to the community. We all want to give back. There are many philanthropists in the cannabis community. It’s helpful to have organizations like [RIP Medical Debt] who are spearheading the movement.”