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Record $1 Billion+ of Medical Debt Abolished in Appalachia 

The debt of more than 770,000 individuals has been relieved through the ongoing campaign 

19 December 2023 (New York, NY) – Undue Medical Debt, a national nonprofit that raises funds from donors and uses them to acquire and abolish medical debt for people who are financially burdened, has successfully abolished over 1 billion dollars of medical debt in the Appalachia region, one of the poorest and least healthy areas of the U.S.  

The campaign to abolish medical debt in the region took off in 2019 with the generous support of two families with ties to the region – Jim and Sharen Branscome and Bill Bishop and Julie Ardery – whose donation wiped out $10 million of medical debt for 10,000 individuals in  Appalachia. The Branscome’s ongoing fundraising has played a major role in reaching the 1 billion dollar milestone. Read more about that donation and the funders’ connection to the area here.   

Appalachian recipients of the debt relief expressed their gratitude to Undue . “This gift was such a tremendous blessing to me in more ways than the debt relief itself. I have never in my life gotten anything that says, ‘total debt: $7,809.00…. balance: ABOLISHED,’” says Adrienne M. of Tennessee. “At first glance, I thought it was a joke or a scam, but when I saw the date of service, I knew THEN, this was real. The date of service dates back to when my newborn son was in the hospital fighting for his life.”  

“[Debt relief is] going to help my credit a whole lot…This will give me the opportunity to not have to worry… I’ve always said my kid has sickle cell [disease], I would hate to have to leave this debt for him to pay,” says Jeseta of Alabama, adding, “It really makes me feel so glad that [this debt] is gone… a lot of the time my life has been a struggle so for this to happen is amazing. It’s more than amazing. It’s a blessing.” 

Appalachia is made up of 423 counties across 13 states and spans 206,000 square miles, from southern New York to northern Mississippi. The region is home to 26.3 million residents. While it has made progress in recent years, it still lags behind the nation in key socioeconomic indicators. Just under 1 in 7 people in Appalachia are in poverty and approximately 2.2 million people are uninsured. With higher debt burdens than other parts of rural America, nearly 1 in 4 Appalachians have a medical debt in collections.  

Undue Medical Debt is committed to relieving people of the burden of medical debt to enhance their economic opportunities and to enable them to live healthier lives. Undue ’s criteria for debt relief are those individuals who are four times or below the federal poverty level or those with medical debt that is 5% or more of their gross annual income. Medical debt relief cannot be requested and is source-based.  

“At Undue Medical Debt, we know that folks want to support debt relief in regions where they live or areas that are otherwise important to them. Jim and Sharen Branscome reached out to me with the idea of targeting a region larger than a state or collection of counties and I thought that was brilliant since it gives us a broad canvas for securing and erasing medical debts,” shares VP of Development, Scott G. Patton. “We know that poverty, and certainly medical debt, plagues the Appalachia region – so we pooled all our resources and over the past 4 years we’ve made incredible progress. I thank Jim, Sharen, and several of their dear friends for helping light a fire under what has been our most successful regionally focused effort in the history of the nonprofit.” 

Want to support more debt relief in Appalachia? Anyone can give to the fundraising page and help the Branscomes reach their goal, which is in sight: https://unduemedicaldebt.org/campaign/appalachia/ 

Since its inception in 2014, more than $10.4 billion of medical debt has been abolished, helping more than 7 million people. Medical debt often results from unplanned, unexpected illnesses and accidents. About one-third of U.S. adults have difficulty covering unexpected health care bills.