Oncologist writes off medical debt for 200 cancer patients

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About 200 cancer patients received an unexpected and much appreciated gift this Christmas. About a week before the holidays, a greeting card arrived in the mail, notifying them that all of their remaining medical debts had been forgiven.

A total of $650,000 in fees had been removed from unpaid invoices.


Doctor Omar Atik

It was done by Omar Atiq, MD, a medical oncologist who has run a community oncology clinic in Arkansas for nearly 30 years. He said Medscape Medical News that he realized that many of his patients simply couldn’t afford to pay their bills, and so, along with closing his clinic, he wrote off debts.

Atiq had operated the Arkansas Cancer Clinic in Pine Bluff for three decades before merging with a local hospital in March 2020.

“We did the billing ourselves when we had the clinic,” Atiq said, “but after the merger, billing and collections were sent to a local company, and the company started giving us updates. monthly days.”

Atiq said he had never reviewed the billing before, but since the bills were coming to him now, he started reviewing them.

“I saw that some patients were only paying $5 or $10 on a fairly large bill. I talked to my wife and kids, and we realized these were patients who just couldn’t not pay,” he said.

Arkansas is a poor state and Pine Bluff is in the Mississippi Delta, which is one of the poorest areas in the country, he explained. The pandemic has caused job losses and business closures, and people are really feeling the hardship, he added.

“It’s really a terrible situation, that in the richest country in the world, people are unable to pay their medical bills or have to file for bankruptcy,” commented Atiq. Cancer patients are particularly vulnerable to “financial toxicity”; an analysis found that for more than a third of cancer patients who have health insurance, out-of-pocket costs are higher than expected.

Many of these people are middle or lower class, Atiq commented; it is not the poorest of the poor who at least have Medicaid to cover medical expenses. “These patients have high out-of-pocket expenses, such as coinsurance and deductibles, and they may also have to take time off work and not get paid for it,” he said.

His clinic merged with the local hospital in March 2020. It was then closed, although many patients were still struggling with their medical bills. Atiq, who is also a professor of medicine at the University of Arkansas College of Medicine for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and an oncologist at UAMS William P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Little Rock, Arkansas, saw an opportunity to helping his former patients with their unpaid debts.

“We were at the point where we thought we could cancel the debt, and we did, he said.

The result was that during Christmas week dozens of surprised patients received the following holiday greeting“I hope this note finds you well. The Arkansas Cancer Clinic was proud to serve you as a patient. Although various health insurance companies pay most bills for the majority of patients, even deductibles and co-payments can be expensive. Unfortunately, this is how our health care system currently operates. Arkansas Cancer Clinic is closing its doors after more than 29 years of dedicated service to the community. The clinic has decided to waive all balances owed to the clinic by its patients.

To Arkansas via Chicago and New York

Atiq has lived in Pine Bluff since 1991. Originally from Pakistan, Atiq received his medical degree from Khyber Medical College, University of Peshawar, and completed his residency and senior residency in internal medicine at Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Administration Hospital and Loyola University Foster G. McGaw Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. His postgraduate training was in medical oncology and hematology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, and he is board certified in medical oncology, hematology, and internal medicine.

He is currently Governor of the Arkansas Chapter of the American College of Physicians and Past President, House President, and Chairman of the Board of the Arkansas Medical Society. He serves on the Arkansas State Medical Board and is commissioner emeritus of the Arkansas Tobacco Regulatory Commission, where he served as first vice chairman. He also served on the board of the Pulaski Academy.

With the help of his family, he established the Atiq Family/JRMC Educational Fund at the Pine Bluff Community Foundation to benefit deserving children in the Pine Bluff School District.

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