Thanks to the kindness of an oncology doctor who erased $650,000 of his patients’ debt, around 200 people are starting 2021 off without any medical debt.
Dr. Omar Atiq has been a medical oncologist for nearly 40 years and closed his cancer clinic in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in March after nearly three decades in business. He then worked with a billing company for several months after closing to try to collect payments from his former patients, but soon made a decision to stop reaching out to them.
Atiq told Good Morning America, “Over time I realized that there are people who just are unable to pay, so my wife and I, as a family, we 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 said.
Around 200 of Atiq’s former patients received a holiday greeting that read, “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 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.”
“Since I started practicing, I’ve always been rather uncomfortable with sick patients not only having to worry about their own health and quality of life and their longevity and their families and their jobs but also money,” he said. “That’s always tugged at me.”
“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,” said Atiq, who made the decision along with his wife, Mehreen.
“I saw patients over the years who just didn’t have anything or who went bankrupt trying to pay for their treatment,” he said. “In many ways it seems like a totally unfair situation.”
Bea Cheesman, president of RMC of America, the billing company that worked with Atiq to forgive his patients’ debts.
“Dr. Atiq is a very caring individual and he’s always been extremely easy to work with as a client,” Cheesman told “GMA.” “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.”
Atiq explained, “I just hope that it made it a little bit easier for them. That’s it,” he said. “I just hope that it gave them a little sigh of relief and made it easier for them so they could face other challenges they may be facing in their lives.”