It’s no secret that healthcare in America is run on a business model, leaving countless Americans facing a mountain of bills. However, once in a while, an incredible person comes along to make a change. Dr. Omar Atiq, closed down his practice in 2021, but not before erasing the medical debt of around 200 former patients.
Dr Omar Atiq came from Pakistan more than 30 years ago. He opened the Arkansas Cancer Clinic in Pine Bluff in 1991. Since then, he has created a compassionate and supportive medical practice, providing treatments to cancer patients. Some of his specialties include chemo and radiation therapy. In contrast, the doctor has spent the last couple years in another career as a professor. He is currently a professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Located in Little Rock, he works to teach others how to provide the best care possible.
An Act of Kindness Goes a Long Way
Prior to taking on his role as a professor, Dr. Atiq closed his cancer treatment center in Arkansas after nearly 30 years in operation. Throughout the process, he realized something heartbreaking. Many of his patients and their families had been negatively impacted by the pandemic of 2020. However, his act of kindness brought relief to around 200 families. His kind act? To eliminate medical debt for families in need of some assistance.
“Over time I realized that there are people who just are unable to pay,” Dr. Atiq explained. At the time, he was working with a debt collection agency to gather the remaining medical debt of the patients he had treated before shutting down. It was then that he realized just how hard the pandemic had made things for his former patients and their families. As a result, he was inspired to help. “So my wife and I, as a family, we thought about it and looked at forgiving all the debt. We saw that we could do it and then just went ahead and did it.” Dr. Atiq disclosed.
Holiday Announcement to Erase Medical Debt
Over the Christmas holiday of 2020, he sent a Christmas card with a notice out to patients, informing them their medical debt would be erased. “We thought there was not a better time to do this than during a pandemic that has decimated homes, people’s lives and businesses and all sorts of stuff,” he shared. The outstanding medical debt of his patients totaled almost $650,000.
“The Arkansas Cancer Clinic was proud to serve you as a patient. Although various health insurances pay most of the bills for the majority of patients, even the deductibles and co-pays can be burdensome. Unfortunately, that is the way our health care system currently works. The clinic has decided to forego all balances owed to the clinic by its patients. Happy Holidays.” The office’s holiday card read.
Something to Say on the Matter
Dr. Atiq’s act of kindness didn’t go unnoticed by patients, or more notably, those he’s worked alongside in the past. For example, he was described as “a very caring individual” by Bea Cheesman, president of RMC of America. RMC is located in White Hall, Arkansas, and has operated since 1941. As one of the largest Arkansas-based agencies, they’re committed to helping their clients recover things owed to them, such as medical debt.
“He’s always been extremely easy to work with as a client. It’s just a wonderful thing that he and his family did in forgiving this debt because the people with oncology bills do have more challenges than the bulk of the population.” Cheesman said of Dr. Atiq.
Meanwhile, the executive VP of the Arkansas Medical Society advocacy group, David Wroten, also spoke very highly of Dr. Atiq and his generous kind act of erasing some medical debt. “If you knew Dr Atiq, you would better understand. First, he is one of the smartest doctors I have ever known, but he is also one of the most compassionate doctors I have ever known.” He said.
Help Erase Medical Debt
Although this kind act happened a couple of years ago, it is a beautiful reminder to us all that there are people in the world who do what they can to make it a better place.
Sadly, medical debt, along with student loans, is some of the most difficult debt to erase. Pairing the expenses of hospital visits and medication with the emotional and physical exhaustion of having an illness, it’s not a wonder that medical debt eats away at families’ resources. On the other hand, organizations are in place to help families handle their medical debt.
There are assistance programs, sometimes referred to as “charity care,” that provide free or “discounted” healthcare to patients. Some programs are offered by the state you reside in, whereas others might even be provided by your current medical care provider. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Affordable Care Act requires hospitals to have a Financial Assistance Policy in place, publicly displaying eligibility requirements and how to apply.
The CFPB also shares that it’s a good idea to alert any existing debt collectors or your intent to file for financial assistance through the medical provider. Moreover, the IRS provides more in-depth information regarding financial policies and how to contact them if a non-profit hospital isn’t following the ACA guidelines and noting that some for-profit hospitals may also have assistance programs. Furthermore, some states have their own set of charity care laws that ensure hospitals provide free or discounted medical care to those in need.
Charities that Help
In addition to programs like Medicare, there are numerous charities throughout the U.S., hard at work to help families eliminate their medical debts. A program called Extra Help is an “extension” of medicare. The Extra Help program was designed to provide additional support for help with the cost of prescriptions. Additionally, the Health Insurance Marketplace provides viewable options for those who qualify for help under the ACA.
Dr. Atiq, and others have done an incredible thing by generously helping families eliminate medical debt, giving them one less thing to worry about during difficult times, such as facing health and capability issues alongside the rising cost of living.
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- “About RMC America.” RMC
- “US doctor forgives $650,000 in medical bills for cancer patients.” BBC. January 5, 2021.
- “Is There Financial Help for My Medical Bills?” CFPB. June 10, 2022
- “Doctor erases cancer patients’ medical debt totaling $650,000.” GMA. Kate Kindelan. January 1, 2023.
- “9 Government Programs and Nonprofits That Can Help with Medical Bills.” Asbestos. Karen Selby. August 7, 2023.