Stacey Abrams PAC Wipes Out $212 Million in Medical Debt for 108,000 People in 5 States

A political organization led by Stacey Abrams has paid off medical debts owed by 108,000 people in Georgia, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

The Fair Fight Political Action Committee donated a total of $1.34 million to the nonprofit organization RIP Medical Debt to clear debts that carried a face value of $212 million, the Associated Press reported.

The state where the most people received the debt payoffs was Georgia, where 69,000 people had their medical bills paid. In Arizona, 27,000 had their debts paid, while 8,000 people in Louisiana had theirs forgiven, followed by about 2,000 people in both Mississippi and Alabama.

Abrams founded Fair Fight Action after losing the 2018 election for governor of Georgia. The group has since raised more than $100 million. While Fair Fight Action has thus far been known mostly for voting rights advocacy, it recently started working toward broadening health care throughout the country.

"I know firsthand how medical costs and a broken healthcare system put families further and further in debt," Abrams said in a statement. "Across the sunbelt and in the South, this problem is exacerbated in states like Georgia where failed leaders have callously refused to expand Medicaid, even during a pandemic."

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For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Stacey Abrams
Stacey Abrams' PAC donated millions to pay off medical debts for 108,000 people. Above, Abrams accepts the Social Justice Impact Award during the 52nd NAACP Image Awards on March 27, 2021. NAACP via Getty Images

Lauren Groh-Wargo, CEO of allied group Fair Fight Action and senior adviser to the PAC, said paying off medical debt is another facet of the group's advocacy seeking expansion of Medicaid coverage in the 12 states that have refused to expand the health insurance to all poorer adults.

"What is so important about this is the tie between Medicaid expansion and just crushing medical debt," Groh-Wargo said.

Of the states targeted, Arizona and Louisiana have expanded Medicaid.

Last week, Fair Fight Action launched ads last week demanding that Georgia Republican Governor Brian Kemp add Medicaid expansion to the list of topics that Georgia lawmakers will consider in a special session starting next week to redraw electoral districts. Democrats are hoping Abrams will run against Kemp again in 2022 after a narrow loss that launched her into political stardom.

RIP Medical Debt said Fair Fight is giving the third-largest donation in its history. Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott gave the group $50 million last year. The group has aided more than 3 million people since it was founded in 2014, typically buying bundles of medical debt at steep discounts from the face value. The bills often are purchased from collection agencies that have been trying to get debtors to pay for years. The group has wiped out debt with a face value of more than $5.3 billion.

Allison Sesso, executive director of RIP Medical Debt, said such liabilities often drive people into bankruptcy, can deter people from seeking needed medical care, and can lead to wages being garnished or liens filed on property.

"I wouldn't underestimate the mental anguish that people have from medical debt," Sesso said.

Sesso said her group is not just pursuing debt abolishment "but thinking about how we can improve the system nationwide," trying to advocate that hospitals should do more to make charity care available. She also said research shows states that expanded Medicaid have lower rates of medical debt.

"We are not the permanent solution," Sesso said. "There does need to be a larger solution around what we do about medical debt."

Groh-Wargo said the money was given by donors for political action, but said the money represents "only a small percentage" of what Fair Fight has raised.

"I think of this as politically tithing to help the community we are advocating for and with," Groh-Wargo said, saying the group has done smaller-scale charitable efforts.

Stacey Abrams and Lauren Groh-Wargo
Stacey Abrams' PAC donated millions to pay off medical debts for 108,000 people. Above, then-gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams (left) stands with then-campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo before speaking to her supporters during an election night watch party at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 7, 2018. Groh-Wargo now serves as CEO of Abrams' Fair Fight Action organization. Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP File