Whether you're insured or uninsured, medical debt shows no mercy. It's a financial epidemic that has claimed more than 64 million Americans, and that number keeps going up. NBC 5 has found a solution; one that is going to help thousands of people in North Texas.
We often tell kids they can be anything they want to be: an athlete, a doctor or maybe a veterinarian. But for 13-year-old Katie Thomson, she plans to be a cancer survivor.
Katie's first battle with leukemia happened in January of 2015. Her precious youth placed on hold.
“[It was] intensive chemo, very intensive chemo treatments. It was really awful, 2015, it was a really awful year,” said Katie's mom, Jessica Thomson.
Their financial battle was just beginning. Katie’s parents say they will do anything to keep their daughter alive, but the price of life is costing them nearly $10,000 out of pocket.
So how do you handle the debt?
It's a question nearly 64 million Americans are asking.
When you or a loved one is sick the bills are usually the last thing on your mind.
But when creditors start calling and sending notices about missed payments.
That's when the harsh sting of reality strikes.
“You're so hyper-focused on getting your child well, and then the reality [hits] that the world doesn't stop, these bills are still coming,” says Jessica.
The following months would show more mercy to Katie and her family.
“That second month of chemo, thank God, it did get her into remission. Life was starting to get back to normal,” Jessica explained.
The couple decided to sell their home and use that money to give their family a fresh start.
Her husband used his construction background and YouTube videos to build hope for his family, but months after starting the project started, Katie relapsed.
“We knew when the doctor walked in, and following her was the chaplain, and following her was another doctor, and they didn't even have to say anything, we knew what they were going to say,” Jessica said.
Even with insurance and charitable donations the Thomson family is now facing thousands of dollars in growing medical debt.
Their debt nearly doubled with the second round of treatment and they couldn’t keep up with payments.
“Our debt grows by about $500 a week during her treatments,” said Katie’s Dad, Roy Thomson.
The Thomson family, now living with relatives, was unable to finish the home they started building because of medical debt incurred when their daughter Katie was diagnosed with cancer.
"We weren't financially recovered from the first battle when the second battle hit," she said.
Katie's parents would not allow the bills destroy the family. And Katie refused to let her health slow things down.
"One of the first things Katie said when she was diagnosed was, 'Dad you can't stop building.' So, he kept building," Thomson said.
The Thomsons have made it their mission to finish what they started, but the bills – they're still coming.
"I don't prioritize it like I do getting on with our lives," Thomson explained.
"For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future," Katie said, while reading scripture from the Bible, written on her family's partly constructed home. "It's basically saying that God's plans might not seem like they're going to help you or going to lead you the right way, but they are cause he works in kind of weird ways."
An estimated 17 percent of adults in America are struggling to pay debt, just like the Thomsons. It's a critical situation and can sometimes mean life or death.
So NBC 5 is doing something about it. NBC 5 has partnered with the nonprofit organization RIP Medical Debt. The organization takes debt that has gone to collections, buys it with the help of donors and then forgives the debt.
NBCUniversal, NBC 5's parent company, is making a donation — enough to forgive $2 million in medical debt in North Texas. More than 2,000 people in North Texas will receive letters, and if you get one your debt is erased.
We couldn't choose what debt to pay, or who to pay for, and the debt could range anywhere from $100 to $100,000 – but all the debt will be relieved in North Texas.
The Thomson family said they're just taking things one day at a time.
They may be facing medical debt-but their daughter Katie's cancer is in remission, and to them, that's all that matters.
NBC 5 Responds will bring you continuing coverage of the Medical Debt Epidemic in the coming days to help you better understand how medical debt works and come up with a plan to tackle it in your family.