Medical debt is a massive problem, let’s do something about it

What if we could forgive all of the City of LA’s 35 million in available medical debt?

In late 2018 I moved out from NY to LA, looking for a job in a company that built and designed products that mattered. I stumbled across WeTransfer, in part by accident, recommended by a friend, and was lucky to uncover a company that cared about people over profit. Not a big company, but a company with ambition. I then met the team behind this work who were busy building campaigns against gun violence, a video collaboration with Bjork, and a vast multi-sensory digital, musical and long-form message from earth. Was there something in the water here?

They offered me a job. The first day I started at WeTransfer I read On Companies and Communities — a thoughtful paper providing a nuanced look into how companies can better engage with the communities they call home. Why did we do it? It clearly wasn’t a PR move. People barely read these days, let alone 65 pages of well-reasoned input from community leaders on how LA can avoid becoming gold-plated San Francisco.

I found out it was because our President, Damian Bradfield, had gotten advice from Ann Philbin at the Hammer Museum to do better than the other tech companies who moved to Silicon Beach, or in particular, those who had moved out to San Francisco and failed to integrate with their community. He had decided to take this to heart and do something real that would provide a roadmap for other companies in our shoes.

That kind of thinking is infectious. When the leadership dedicates time and energy to initiatives that may not be the most popular or logical but can lead to actionable change, we all feel that trust to dream up big ideas and fight for what we believe in.

The paper also laid out a framework for how companies can better support their employees to dedicate time and energy to nonprofits or educational initiatives that matter to them, and I took that to heart.

Around the same time, I read this article in the New York Times about two elderly women who forgave the medical debt for their local community. I loved how they were only two women who saw a big opportunity.

I immediately forwarded this to our team and said that we should do the same for our neighborhood. Everyone agreed.

The next day we started working with the nonprofit RIP Medical Debt to forgive 2 million dollars of medical debt in our local community for pennies on the dollar. In the next few weeks over 1200 low-income residents will get a letter in the mail telling them that their debt has been forgiven and it will be removed from their credit scores.

We may be a small company, but we can make a big impact. It’s estimated that 57.1 percent of U.S. personal bankruptcies are due to medical bills, making it the leading cause of the financial calamity that can often precede homelessness. Besides the relief from the debt itself, credit scores go up by 20 points on average after the medical debt is removed, which can help with everything from getting a car loan to renting a home.

After we decided to pursue this, we let our minds wander. What if we could forgive all of the City of LA’s 35 million in available medical debt? We spoke to the Mayor’s Office. We talked to community leaders and tech leaders. We discovered there is a real appetite to band together to solve big issues in this city. After seeing the excitement, we’ve decided to lead an effort to reach this goal by the end of the year. But we can’t do it alone. We’re looking for collaborators and partners who want to join us. Are you with us?

Please reach out to to start a conversation.