The United States has one of the highest costs of healthcare for first world countries. People have been clamoring for universal medical coverage initiatives for decades and it's difficult to argue that it's not only doable but could ultimately prove more fiscally viable for the nation as a whole if it ever was implemented. Until that day comes, however, many US citizens are left footing the bill of their medical costs.
It's a subject that's spawned countless political debates and even movies and TV shows, many would argue that part of the reasons why Breaking Bad was so popular was because it was very easy for many Americans to sympathize with the plight of Walter White who ultimately decided to cook and sell meth to help pay for his cancer treatments.
And thanks to Dr. Omar Atiq, an oncologist practicing out of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, his cancer patients don't need to conjure up any get-rich-quick-schemes or worry about how they're going to pay for their medical bills because Atiq effectively canceled their debts. And it wasn't a small amount either: the nearly 200 patients he absolved racked up healthcare charges of approximately $650,000.
On Monday, December 28 Atiq's clinic sent the following letter to his patients: "I hope this note finds you well. 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. Arkansas Cancer Clinic is closing its practice after over 29 years of dedicated service to the community. The clinic has decided to forego all balances owed to the clinic by its patients. Happy Holidays."
Fox 16 reported Atiq saying, "Being sick is hard, having cancer is harder, and having Cancer in this pandemic is devastating. I am just a regular physician– a regular person that they have in the neighborhood– just so happens to be me standing here. The ones struggling couldn’t pay, so we thought we could just write off the debt."
He added that he would be working with a billing company as well to ensure that none of his patients receive follow-up queries or notices asking them to pay the balances associated with their treatment, too. Oftentimes a "disconnect" will occur between medical billing services and healthcare clinics (ever cover your co-pay in person then receive a bill for the same amount to your home?) and Atiq wants to be confident his patients don't go through that experience.
It's a bittersweet end to Atiq's healthcare facility, but it sounds like he wanted to perform this one last act of kindness for his patients at the culmination of Arkansas Cancer Clinic's work in the community, "I love them, I care for them, and I am glad I was able to do a little bit at this point for them," the doctor said.
Dr. Atiq was named chair of the Board of Governors of the American College of Physicians in 2019 and is a respected member of the medical community.