In attempts at making their lives “a little bit easier”, a Pakistani-American doctor gave nearly 200 patients a Christmas gift that changed their lives. He erased more than half a million dollars in medical debt.
The doctor, Dr. Omar Atiq, founded a cancer clinic in 1991 in Pine Bluff in Arkansas. He sent out a notice to his patients just days before Dec. 25, noting that “the clinic has decided to forego all balances owed to the clinic by its patients,” according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Atiq had closed his clinic in February after nearly 30 years of providing cancer treatments including chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
He told ABC TV’s “Good Morning America” that he had worked with a billing company for months to collect any remaining payments from patients, but eventually decided to stop contacting them. As of December, the clinic still had a total of nearly US$650,000 in outstanding patient bills, according to Atiq, who is also a professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock.
“Over time I realized that there are people who just are unable to pay,” Atiq said, adding that he and his wife, Mehreen, 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,” he added.
“You add to it the absolute devastation that the [coronavirus] pandemic has wrought, and you think thank God that we’re fairly comfortable and this was something we could at least do to help the community.”
In the notice to his patients, Atiq wrote that “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,” Atiq continued, before surprising his patients that all remaining debts would be forgiven.“Happy Holidays,” he added.
Bea Cheesman, president of RMC of America, the billing company that worked with Atiq, said that Atiq’s decision to forgive all remaining debts was a “very kind gesture.” “Atiq is a very caring individual and he’s always been extremely easy to work with as a client,” Cheesman said.
“I think personally that 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.”