"In Orange County, it's over 1,000 people that are, instead of getting a door knock from a debt collector, are gonna get a note from us saying your debt's forgiven," said Matt Hanson, a managing partner at insurance broker Alera Group.
More than 80 employees across the company have donated their own money to help erase more than $2.1 million worth of medical debt. It's for people who live at or below 200% of the poverty line in Orange County.
"We're in the insurance business, we see this struggle of employers trying to provide benefits for their employees," he said.
Through a partnership with the non-profit RIP Medical Debt, every $100 donated forgives $10,000 in medical debt. Hanson got the idea after learning an Eagle Rock church had paid off $5.3 million in medical debt back in 2019.
"The debt is paid, it's taken off of their credit report, there is no responsibility for it, and I just thought that was a phenomenal idea and a good way to do something," he said.
The idea immediately resonated with Alera employee Anastasia Chernykh, whose trip to the ER a number of years back turned into a four night stay at the hospital. At the time, she was a recent immigrant from Russia with no healthcare.
"The bill was astronomical, let's just put it that way," she said. "Walking away with debt collectors, walking away receiving bills for months and months and months."
She knows firsthand how much of a difference this can make for people most in need.
"Just having some of that stress alleviated, having some of their future being set up, having some immediate financial pressure taken off, I think it can have a great impact," she said.
"It's the one debt that you don't elect to take on. You may have elected to take on college debt, you may have elected to take on a car loan, or what have you. Nobody wakes up and goes 'You know what I just feel like spending a little extra money on my healthcare today'," said Hanson.
According to RIP Medical Debt, 66% of all U.S. bankruptcies are tied to medical debt issues and 25% of all U.S. credit card debt is medical debt.