Fear of Medical Debt Kept Cancer Patient From Chance at Life

Medical debt fears keep treatment out of reach, but one debt collector is working to try to help make things easier for those who are sick. 

We met Betty Roberson in March 2017, when she was two years into a fight with cervical cancer.

"I did 30 rounds of radiation and then I did a bunch of rounds of chemo," Betty told us back then.

Doctors said her body couldn't handle more chemo or radiation, but her tumor was still there.

There was only one other option, proton therapy.

It's where doctors aim the radiation exactly at the tumor, and it doesn't go elsewhere in your body.

Insurance wouldn't cover the procedure, Betty would have to pay out of pocket.

There was a $27,000 down payment and $27,000 more after the treatment.

Craig Antico, who worked for years in the debt collection industry, has seen it happen to many families.

If they say yes to treatment, then they're in debt.

"You're one illness away, or accident away, from financial ruin in this country", said Antico.

When hospitals are unable to get a family to pay their bill, they put those accounts in one big file.

Antico, and debt collectors like him, would pay just pennies on the dollars for those bills that people aren’t paying.

"I can buy debt for $10, $1,000 of debt for 10 bucks. I can buy a million dollars of debt for $10,000," he said.

At that point, normally collectors will try to get you to pay the full or some slightly discounted amount and they keep the difference.

Antico decided it was time for a change.

He took his knowledge of debt collection and came up with something the industry hadn't really seen before.

He would still buy debt at pennies on the dollar except instead of trying to collect on it he would forgive it, wipe it away.

Antico works now to raise money allowing him to buy more debt.

It's a lifeline to people who have racked up bills.

The problem's bigger though.

Betty and her husband Danny never racked up the debt because they knew they couldn't pay it off.

In sickness and in health, Danny didn't know he would watch Betty suffer when he proudly made that vow.

"I married her on top of a mountain in Colorado 16 years ago, as close to God as I could get her,"

Tonight Betty is even closer to God. Betty lost her fight with with cancer about two weeks ago.

She didn't get the extra time with her grandkids that she wanted so badly when we spoke to her last year.

No one knows if that other treatment would have worked, but it was a shot, and it just cost too much to toss the ball.

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