A Cancer Patient’s Last Wish: To Pay Off the Medical Debt of Others

Her efforts continue to raise money even after her death a week ago. More than 20 million people in the U.S. have “significant” medical debt.

By Lola Fadulu

A 38-year-old woman with ovarian cancer who started a campaign to help people pay off their medical debt has raised more than $500,000.

Two days after the woman, Casey McIntyre, died Nov. 12, a post appeared on her social media accounts, saying: “A note to my friends: if you’re reading this I have passed away.”

“The cause was stage four ovarian cancer,” the note read. “I loved each and every one of you with my whole heart and I promise you, I knew how deeply I was loved.”

McIntyre asked for donations to a campaign to pay off the medical debt of others. By Monday afternoon, Nov. 20, the campaign had raised nearly $520,000 and money was still flowing in.

“Me and Casey’s family are stunned,” her husband of eight years, Andrew Gregory, said of the money that had been raised so far. “We’re overwhelmed, and it’s been really powerful to see the response to people wanting to eliminate strangers’ medical debt.”

McIntyre’s campaign is on a website called RIP Medical Debt, which uses data analytics to find households with medical debt that have income below four times the federal poverty level or have debts that make up 5% or more of their annual income.

The organization buys debt in bundles “at a steep discount,” which means each donation relieves “about 100 times its value in medical debt,” according to its website.

“In general, $1 donated does abolish $100 of medical debt,” said Daniel Lempert, the vice president of communications for RIP Medical Debt. On Saturday when the funds raised at that point were just under $200,000, he said, “As it stands, that’ll probably abolish somewhere in the neighborhood of $19 million.”

Lempert said McIntyre’s campaign was the first the organization had seen that was planned by someone to take place posthumously.

“As far as a fundraiser, I don’t know if we’ve ever seen something kind of raise as much money as Casey’s campaign has as quickly as it has,” he said.

The organization has paid $10.4 billion of medical debt for more than 7 million people, according to its website.

More than 20 million people in the United States have “significant” medical debt, owing at least $195 billion in total, according to a 2022 survey from the Peterson Center on Healthcare and KFF.

Around 16 million people owe at least $1,000 in medical debt, while around 3 million people owe more than $10,000, according to the survey.

McIntyre was inspired to start the campaign because she had felt lucky to have access to excellent medical care at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, but she was “keenly aware that so many in our country don’t have access to good care,” she wrote on social media.

McIntyre, who grew up in Tenafly, New Jersey, learned she had ovarian cancer in 2019.

She had a long hospitalization at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in May and almost died. That’s when her oncologist suggested she move to home hospice. She was not expected to live longer than a few weeks, but she lived for six more months.

“We ended up having all this extra time,” Gregory, 41, said in an interview Saturday. “We had six months where we were able to travel, we went to the beach, we went to the river, we had karaoke parties in our house, and Casey had time to plan, and she was a planner.”

In addition to her social media posts, McIntyre, who started her career as a publicist and worked as a publisher at Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Random House, wrote letters to her 18-month-old daughter, Grace, and planned her own memorial service.

Gregory, who has produced a few videos for The New York Times as a freelancer in his career, said that his wife’s health worsened greatly in the week before she died, and a medical professional told them how “sad” her situation was.

McIntyre was enraged, Gregory said, and later explained why.

“‘I don’t have a sad life, I have a happy life,’” Gregory recalled his wife saying. “‘I have you, I have Grace, I have my friends and my family, I live in the perfect apartment that we dreamed up together.’”

“To see that Casey’s good and happy life is continuing in this way is very beautiful to me,” he said.

c.2023 The New York Times Company. This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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