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Jul 7, 2020

EP:22 The $45 Million Medical Debt with Victor Martinez

Welcome to Debt-Proof Living with Mary Hunt. Today's episode is brought to you by Mvelopes. That's M, like Mary, v-e-l-o-p-e-s. Mvelopes uses the tried and true envelope budget system. All in one easy app. Give every dollar a purpose.  And now, here's Mary. 


Mary Hunt: [00:00:28] Hi, and welcome to another episode of Debt-Proof Living.

I am so happy that you joined me again today, and guess what we're going to talk about? Debt. Yeah, that's really what we talk about a lot. How to get out of debt, how to stay out of debt and live a life where you are not bound by all of the trappings that happen so we get into debt. So, um, many of you have, have read Debt-Proof Living.

You've been with me for many, many years. So I just want to do a little bit of a review talking about debt and what it does to our lives. You know, basically it takes away our options and the deeper in debt we become, the fewer options we have. That's really, really scary, but the good news is that you can get out of debt.

You know, my story, you know, that I got out of an awful lot of debt. I am,  I'm just so struck by the fact that these days debt is so easy to get into, and I'm not talking about emergency kinds of debt. I'm talking about credit card debt, you know, I just don't have the money today. I'm sure I'll have it next week. So I'll just put it on a credit card.

That's probably the most, most dangerous because it's so easy to get into. Society has, our culture has really put a stamp of approval on it. But then there's other kinds of debt. There's a student loans, student loan debt, which has become very, very popular. And, and then there's, you know, buying a new home and then you've got the home debt and then you've got all kinds of things.

You know, I hear from people all the time who are having trouble paying their property taxes. So they put that on payment and then they put their, their, uh, federal income taxes that they owe on payments. Cause they just don't have haven't and pretty soon it just, it builds.

It's crazy how debt can take over our lives. And for a lot of people, when they're in this kind of situation, there's things called medical emergencies. That's what we're going to talk about today is medical debt. How does that affect their lives? You know, statistically, I can tell you this. If you look it up, if you Google it, you're going to find out that medical debt is the leading cause of bankruptcy in our country.

Well, you can kind of figure that out because if people are already in debt, boy, getting hit with a big 30, $40,000 medical debt, and really be the straw that tips over and puts you into that horrible, horrible situation of, of bankruptcy having to make those kinds of choices. Um, one estimate is that more than one in four Americans have trouble paying a recent medical bill.

I can understand that. Um, And, and sometimes those medical bills get pushed because not paying them is not going to give you a consequence as great is not paying your rent or not paying your car payment. And some research says 32% of American workers have medical debt. And over half have defaulted on it. That's not good for a medical industry in this country to having people default and having to go through all of that kind of thing.

So the last stats statistic I'm going to tell you is that among Americans with medical debt, 15% owed $10,000 or more. That is a huge heavy, heavy burden. I've got the most exciting news to tell you about a great, great story. I read about this in the paper. I did, and it hit the news big time and the headline was a church, a church paid off medical debt of many of their parishoners.

It hit, it hit every news station and it was just fantastic. I read about it and I was so,  I was so excited because I wanted to know more, you know, all the questions. How did the church choose who got to have their paid off? How did that happen? I mean, did you have a lot of new members all of a sudden? So here's the exciting part.

I don't have to wonder. And you don't either, because today my very special guest, from Cincinnati, Ohio is Victor Martinez. He is on staff and the Community Development Director for Crossroads Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. And I have a feeling you're just going to love hearing from him. Welcome, welcome Victor!

So glad to have you today on my podcast. 


Victor Martinez: [00:04:55] Thank you. Very excited to be here with you today. 


Mary Hunt: [00:04:58] Um, I just want to set this up and then you're going to tell us all about it, but I've got a million questions. I'll, I'll try to control myself, Crossroads received some BIG media coverage in February. I just told you about that.

I loved it. Crossroads Church was able to work in their community to get more than $45 million of medical debt forgiven in their area. I want you to tell me all about it. Can you just set this up for us a little bit? How this came to be, how you got involved, how you happen to be on staff there and all of that.

We want to know all of it, Victor. 


Victor Martinez: [00:05:40] Yeah, absolutely. Um, well, I'll, I'll start with a little bit of the background of, um, how did I come about to be in this team? So, um, I'm not a pastor, I'm not a social worker by trade. I went to school for engineering. So I graduated with a mechanical engineering degree and I worked several years in the corporate worldand as an engineer, making diapers and making also cleaning products like, like Swiffer, um, and that kind of stuff for a company called Proctor&Gamble. And about a year and a half ago, I moved to actually work on staff full time at Crossroads Church. And at that point, then my job became  looking for opportunities in which we can be part of helping our city with different things.

And medical debt is something that is not only affecting our city. Like you share some of these statistics. It's actually affecting our entire nation. And it's unfortunate, because for most of the debt, and I'll say maybe all of the medical debt. We don't choose to get sick, it's just happens to us. So it's just very difficult situation.

And, um, we heard of a church in Indiana. Actually, we saw it on the news. that they wiped out $4 million of medical debt. And we actually thought, well, how much debt does the people in Cincinnati do people in Cincinnati, half. And we found out that actually $65 million of medical debt and just the city of Cincinnati alone.

And we felt we needed to do something about it. So we talked with our senior leaders, our Senior Pastor Brian Tome. He was super excited. He wanted to make this happen very quickly. So we got to work on it. 

Alright, this 


Mary Hunt: [00:07:19] brings me to a big question here. The church helped to pay off medical debt to the tune of $45 million. Does that mean that Crossroads Church has a bank account with that much extra money in it.

And you just wrote out checks to all these people's debtors. 


Victor Martinez: [00:07:38] Yeah, absolutely not. No. Like most churches our pockets are not super deep. There's a few things that happened here. So one is, uh, we partnered with an organization called RIP Medical Debt and they have been working with a lot of organizations on paying off medical debt for individuals that, um, many of them are not able to pay it off.

And they are able to purchase , and so acquire debt for a ratio about one for every hundred dollars of debt, they, they're able to purchase it for $1. So 1:100 is, is the ratio. So that's one aspect. That we don't have to invest $46 million to get rid of $46 million of medical debt. And then the other, the other aspect is that really, um, we didn't usethe budget of the church for doing this. This was really the people in our community that stepped up to give of their money, to come alongside  folks that are, we're not able to pay their debt, to pay it off. And I think that's really the, the thing to highlight in the story is the generosity of, of people.

Um, when, when we know that there are people that need help, that are hurting our community really just, just rallied around them. So it was very beautiful to see that. 


Mary Hunt: [00:08:56] That's amazing. So you were able to, in essence, I suppose, just putting it simply to negotiate the debt for these people. So if they owed a thousand dollars, the hospital or the doctors were willing to accept $100 to pay that off, is that, is that what you're saying?


Victor Martinez: [00:09:19] Yeah. And that's typically how there's this industry works in terms of, um, when hospitals or places find out that people are not able to pay the debt. They will go and sell this to a collections agency. Um, so if we're in debt, we probably have seen a letter in our mail or two that say, Hey, you owe this debt. This is how much you have to pay. It affects your credit and all that kind of stuff that, you know, I'm pretty sure that, you know, a lot about. So in a similar way, this organization, RIP is able to purchase this debt, but instead of going after people to ask them to pay for it, they go after people that actually can pay it for other people. And that's what we did. 

Mary Hunt: [00:10:00] I imagine it was Christians helping to with the Bible tells us where to bear one burdens. So that is a beautiful thing. Can you imagine if our whole health system was based on that, that those who are healthy, I guess technically that's how insurance works, the healthy, uh, cover the costs of those who are sick. But that's truly amazing.


Julie Emerson: [00:10:26] Let's take a quick break for just a minute. Hi, I'm Julie producer of Debt-Proof Living with Mary Hunt. You know, many of us have the experience in our lives of living paycheck to paycheck and many people. I know it well, have a difficult time following a budget. But not managing our money as a leading cause of stress in our lives.That's why Mvelopes created a simple, affordable envelope budgeting program that just works. Mvelopes helps you take control of your future by giving every dollar a purpose, every dollar, a purpose, people who use Mvelopes see monthly savings of 10% of their spending within six weeks of getting started and they report less anxiety.

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Mary Hunt: [00:11:32] Now I've got some other questions for you.

Alright. I'm sitting in a service and I know that Crossroads Church is huge. You have multiple campuses and a big organization. So here I'm just picturing myself sitting in this beautiful big auditorium. Personally way down by my debt situation. And I read in the, in the bulletin or in the program, or I hear someone from the platform say that we're going into this campaign or this event where others are, we're going to reach out and we're going to bear one another's burdens and we're going to help pay off medical debt.

My ears would perk up and Whoa, that would be so amazing. So how did you decide who would be qualified or who would be eligible for this program or was it open ended and anyone who had debt? It would be paid off. I don't quite understand that part.


Victor Martinez: [00:12:40] Yeah, absolutely multiple things here. One, uh, I think to answer the bulk of the question, which is how to, how do we know who we're going to bless? Um, we, we didn't know who, who was going to receive a blessing. So this information is confidential and we didn't have access to it. We just knew that there was an amount of money that was outstanding in debt out there.

This is where our partner RIP Medical Debt comes in and they handle all that portion. And. So we, we, we determine, Hey, we have different campuses in different location. We want to see what's in debt around these locations. And we're just going to see how much we fundraise and how much they were able to pay off.

And that's how it was. So, um, In the case of that, there were somebody who had medical debt, for example, in our community, that said, Hey, can I, can I be a part of this? Which had happened. Which it happened. Um, We were not in a position to necessarily, like, purchase their debt just the way this program works. So what we did is we many years ago, Uh, we started a, um, place in Cincinnati called the City Link Center and it was with the intent of helping people get out of poverty, specifically, uh, fight generational poverty.

Uh, so we have a lot of resources for folks that are going through different hardships to, to get some access to tools and help. So for those folks that were not able to be blessed through, through that program. We had an opportunity for, to come alongside them. And I think many times some of this debt leads to other challenges.

So really the purpose of City Link there was to just partner with them, be there with them, for them to meet, uh, to help them with their needs.


Mary Hunt: [00:14:27] That is just wonderful. Part of my Debt-Proof Living program and what I've taught people and have led people out of debt. The absolute essence are these five elements of Debt-Proof Living and one of them is giving., How important it is that we all learn to give because that's what kills greed in our lives. And previous podcasts, my listeners know, if you've listened to The Seven Money Rules Series, part of everything you bring into your life, everything is handed to you. All of your income. Part of it needs to be given away. And that, that is amazing to me. That's the way one of the ways to stay out of debt is also in a way to get out of debt.

And so, um, when I think of Crossroads Church teaching stewardship, that we should be givers. How important is that to your whole program at the church? 


Victor Martinez: [00:15:24] Yeah, I, it's very important. Um, it's a big biblical principle. Uh, you know, the, the Bible is full of wisdom. There's just a lot of different topics that you could pick and you can, you can just get some good insights into, and for those of us that are believers, these, these wisdoms become principles of life and how we want to live.

So one of them is. giving, to your point. Um, and we talk a lot about the principle of tithing, which builds discipline. You know, it's not just a faith thing, it's also a math thing. You know, it builds discipline in terms of how can, can we do this? Um, what also is you alluded to this it's this concept of us giving away the things that we have because ultimately eventually actually either we will give them more or when we kick the bucket, you know, they, they go away, you know, they go out to somebody else.

So we, I say this is something that is true for. I will say that from my understanding of the Christian world. But even I see this in other faith expressions, how the importance of, of giving money out to other people and not even knowing what happens. And that was actually the context of this initiative.

We were, we were talking about money. We spent six weeks talking about money in a church, which is it. We don't do often, as you can imagine, is a. It's a very interesting topic to have in the church setting. In that weekend in particular, where we announced that we were going to, to try to see how much money we could come up with.

We were talking about the power of multiplication and how, when we give the blessings that we receive, when God, um, uh, from, from God specifically, When we give away, we have no expectation on what's coming back. When we do it for the, from the depths of our heart. And not because we think we're going to receive something, but just because, um, that's what we're called to do.

We're called to serve the least of these. And, and I, and I think that's probably one of the things I've made this so impactful is that our folks really genuinely, from the core of their heart, they had a desire to bless other people because they know that they are blessed. 


Mary Hunt: [00:17:38] My producer and I were talking before we started the show. And she told me that, um, well, first of all, I absolutely believe that it's impossible to out-give God. Giving is, is one of those things in our lives that we can't really explain how in giving we receive. But I know that proven it over and over and over again.  But she mentioned that that your pastor and the pastoral staff kind of put out there a very unusual money back guarantee.


Victor Martinez: [00:18:07] Yeah. 


Mary Hunt: [00:18:07] Can you tell us about that?


Victor Martinez: [00:18:11] Yeah, absolutely. It is. Um, it is an interesting and different concept for sure. But, um, yes, we did that also within the context of that series that we were talking, actually, it was inspired from a, from a book called The Blessed Life. And, um, we were inviting people to really explore the concept of tithing. Tithing is counter-cultural and the concept of giving, giving money.

And we are going to receive more blessings sounds, counter intuitive. Like we are told in our, in our American culture that we just need to accumulate money. That's, you know, that's what it's designed for. So we just put it out there for folks to say, Hey, if, if really you're afraid that, um, this is not gonna work out.

Then we want to make sure that you get to experience it first hand. So what we said is that if you want to explore tithing for three months, and at the end of three months, you see that there are no changes to your life. Some of them could be financial, but others things that are a little bit harder to measure, like maybe relationships improve, or maybe other things.

If you don't see any of that, there's no need for, for us keeping your money. We will return it. And I will say that I am not maybe we, we returned money to one person out of the hundreds of people that tried it. Because people were experiencing life transformation when they step into that space


Mary Hunt: [00:19:33] God keeps His promises. He says I will bless you, 


Victor Martinez: [00:19:37] Absolutely!


Mary Hunt: [00:19:38] So anyway, I want to stand up and share, this is the best story ever.

I just absolutely love that. So Victor, tell me, um, did you and your team at Crossroads, uh, the size of your church alone tells me that you are very influential in that city.  And how, how does Crossroads reach beyond their campus to affect, to bless the community? 


Victor Martinez: [00:20:03] Yeah, absolutely. Well, this COVID situation has been really interesting in the fact that we have been blessed in being able to share our what we know of, of the, you know, of our faith through mediums like social media or TV.

So, um, we almost, we might today, who knows, be at over 500,000 followers on Facebook, for example.  When this all started we're maybe at 30,000., Which is, that it's, that in itself is just crazy. And a lot of those folks are people from all over the nation. In fact, that is a lot of people, the world that are just being able to, to see that.

So, um, W we, we think we are, you know, we are giving the opportunity to really, um, bring good news and really share with, um, what does really following Jesus looks like, because with the same token, there, there are other things out there that are, unfortunately, not, that are positive that are, that are going on.  But that is let us one thing that it's one way that we're communicating across multiple people.

But also since very early in our, in the foundation of the Crossroads, our Crossroads Church, we have always been looking at how can we bless people in other places. So we, we started a hospice in South Africa. It was the biggest at the time, for example, many years ago. And we, you know, our community put in a lot of money to make that happen.

We still today, we invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in helping fight sex trafficking in India. And we have efforts in other countries,  Nicaragua, Bolivia. Uh, and I'm pretty sure I'm missing others. Puerto Rico. Where we're, we're really trying to make our resources available for, for those people to be able to, um, solve other basic needs, but also get to hear the good news.

So. Yeah, that that's something that we're, we try very intentional beyond the, the United States, but also within the city, we have this example of medical debt. During COVID. Our community again contributed over $230,000 that were used for supporting medical professionals in our city so they have access to childcare, uh, at the beginning of this pandemic, when everything was being closed. Food for people that needed that. And I could go on and on. There's different examples. And every single time it has been our people saying yes to giving for the benefit of other people that they might not even know. 


Mary Hunt: [00:22:35] Wonderful. It's just fabulous. And I think that that is carrying out what Jesus told us to do.

Care for each other. Share the gospel. To care for those in poverty. The  widows, especially.  I'm thinking about he people who were so blessed having this amount just removed from the shoulders. Does, does Crossroads then have a program, a plan? I suppose many, many churches do have. um, where you're helping people learn to get out of debt and to stay out. Because debt is a horrible thief.

You know the Bible says that the lender becomes the master of the borrower. That's a horrible position to be in. So can you tell us, I mean, you just didn't. I hope he just didn't leave the people here. They probably still come to your church and it wasn't a wonderful opportunity. It must be to help them then learn to manage money.


Victor Martinez: [00:23:34] Yeah, we have definitely programs to talk about finances and how to help people with their finances. Um, we're also, um, talk about it through the lens of, um, our faith. Also, we, we, we bring that to that conversation, like you said, you know, um, That is, it's a form of bondage. And in fact, one of the reasons why we're so attracted to doing this is because when we gave out the money, we didn't know who this was going to, the person that received the letter in the mail, um, they didn't know who paid this debt.

And in a way we feel this is exact same thing that Jesus,did for us, even before we knew who he was, he paid our debt. And so we thought what a great opportunity to have really. Share what that, what that looks like in a physical, tangible way today. And that's what we tried doing. So, yeah. 


Mary Hunt: [00:24:27] Fantastic. You know, I've, I've, um, been to Cincinnati a couple of times, myself.

Usually it was a speaking tour too, or something like that. I don't really know anybody who lives here, 


Victor Martinez: [00:24:38] well, I was goining to say... now you know me. So when you're around, uh, now you can claim that, you know, somebody, 


Mary Hunt: [00:24:44] But, I'll tell you something. I know something very, very special about 

your city...chili!


Victor Martinez: [00:24:50] Well, you put me in a tough spot in terms of that chili. This is a controversial topic. Um, yes, Chili is an important part of our city. I wouldn't say it's the highlight, but again, I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Um, my concept of chili was different. so, you know, some people love it and some people don't, um, I've got, I've grown to like it at this point.



Mary Hunt: [00:25:13] That's good, that's good. Well, when I was there, that the host of the in fact I spoke at a, another church. It wasn't Crossroads, but Vineyard Church. And they took me out for, for a meal after the service. And they wanted me, to show, to show me, Cincinnati's s best. And so they, they preface this by, we're going to take you someplace and we want you to try something.

You may not like it. That's okay if you don't like it. We just want you to know that we're really crazy about what they call Cincinnati chili, or I guess it's really Skyline Chili, which has become known as Cincinnati chili. I, I sat there and I, it looked fabulous. You know how it, how they serve at Victor. It's just, it's amazing.

And my listeners, just  Google, Cincinnati chili. You'll know what I'm talking about. So I take a bite, because it looks all the world like spaghetti with meat sauce. It's served over noodles. And so I take a bite, you know, you want to be kind with your host and all.I'm in a public place. You take a bite at this, and it was such a shock because it was nothing

what I expected, ever. I thought how can I get out of it? How could I not swallow? And how can I get out of this place fast? But the most remarkable thing happened. I took a second bite. I needed a second bite and I mean, by the third or fourth bite, well, you've got, gotta try Cincinnati chili. It's just absolutely amazing. I could not finish what was for the lunch.

So I actually took it in a  to-go container and took it back to my hotel room, which was kind of silly because I don't believe I've ever eaten anything  I had left over in a hotel room. I mean, just honestly, the middle of the night I woke up and my salivary glands were going crazy and I got up and I reheated that in the microwave.

And to this day, I tell you what. I love that stuff and I've learned. I ended out in the way I live in Colorado. We don't have skyline chili here, but I've learned how to make it myself...yes, because people, can we come over and ask, can we come over and have Cincinnati chili?  I don't give my secrets that I buy the spice packet online. So yes. Wonderful church. Well, at least two that I know of now many.


Victor Martinez: [00:27:35] Yeah. Many wonderful people. I think more importantly. And yes, a good chili. So we'll, I'll give you that. 


Mary Hunt: [00:27:42] Next time I'm there, we're going out for chili.  Okay, Victor? 


Victor Martinez: [00:27:45] Yes, we are.


Mary Hunt: [00:27:46] One last question for all of us. Where does, where does Crossroads go from here? What is on your radar? Where, where are you and where are you headed? 


Victor Martinez: [00:27:56] Yeah. Yeah, that, that's a great, that's a great question.

You know, our, our mission is a connecting seekers to a community of Christ followers that are changing the world. And, um, and that's what we want to do. We really want to change the world and, um, There are certain areas that we know we're called to right now. But we also, there's a bunch that will be going into, that we have no idea today. Um, we are, one of the things that I, I think, uh, you know, we will see soon is we're very committed to racial reconciliation. That's, um, that's an important topic, uh, today in our country and we are. We're increasing our investment in that area of bringing more people together to have a conversation, um, that hopefully leads to some healing.So that's one area for sure that we see. I don't think we're done with medical debt. So stay tuned for that. Uh, maybe you'll come back and talk again about what part two will look like. I don't know. I can't make a commitment on behalf of Crossroads at this point, but I see that. And I say, we, we will continue to invest in some of these places that I share abroad, fighting sex trafficking in India and locally, um, and other things.

So, uh, we'll see what, what we'll bring. But one thing is for sure is that we will continue going. We will continue being the church, um, and we won't stop until we're done. 


Mary Hunt: [00:29:23] I just thank you so much for being with me today. This has been wonderful. And I would just like to close with this . God's word tells us, tells us, if you will just trust me and that's the problem.

I think that's why we're so hesitant to give. God says, trust me. Trust me and see if I will not open up the windows of heaven. He'll pour a blessing on you is that you cannot even handle. It will be so great. I think that, that you, Victor, your team and all the people, that church, that amazing church in Cincinnati, Crossroads Community Church, I think that you are

testimony to God keeping his promise. It looks like a blessing has been poured out on you. And with that blessing comes responsibility and we just can't wait to see what comes out of this. Thank you so much for being here. Thank you for following the Lord and for being such a wonderful instrument of his grace and mercy.

Thank you, Victor. 


Victor Martinez: [00:30:26] Thank you,  Mary. 

Julie Emerson: [00:30:30]

Debt-Proof Living with Mary Hunt was created and hosted by, Mary Hunt. Produced by Julie Emerson, with Harold Hunt, Executive Producer.

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