Affordable health care is a challenge for many people. With hospital visits and surgeries costing tens of thousands of dollars, too many patients often forego getting the medical treatment they need because they can’t afford it. But one doctor decided his desire to help patients in need was more important than money in his pocket. So he came up with a creative solution to help not only his patients but others in his community who needed assistance.
Demetrio Aguila, M.D., works at Healing Hands of Nebraska as a nerve specialist. After noticing that many of his patients avoided or canceled necessary surgery because of the price tag, he knew something had to change. He launched a program where he would perform surgery for patients who agreed to repay their bills by donating their time to help the needy in their community.
“We can’t ignore the people in our own backyard,” Aguila told CBS News. “We want to be able to offer hope to patients who have lost hope medically.”
The Healing Hands M25 Program shared some grim statistics about medical debt, including that more than two-thirds of individual bankruptcies in the U.S. are due to medical debt. And more than 75% of those people already had medical insurance.
The Healing Hands M25 program works with patients who would struggle to pay for the doctor’s time and services and determines the amount of community service hours the patient needs to complete to pay off the debt.
The program’s website provides a basic example of how this works: A patient has a surgery that will cost $5,000 after insurance pays its part. The Healing Hands M25 Program, in turn, would ask for 250 hours of community service to pay for the surgery.
And more than one person can help donate those volunteer hours. One of Aguilar’s patients, Jeff Jensen, told CBS News that he had about 560 volunteer hours to complete to pay for his foot surgery. About 100 people agreed to pitch in hours to help him meet that requirement.
“Of those 105, I probably knew 30 or 40 of them,” Jensen said. “Really without this program, this surgery wouldn’t have been done.”
The Healing Hands M25 Program works with a number of organizations where patients can work their hours to pay for their procedure. Currently, about 10% of Aguilar’s patients take advantage of this opportunity. But the doctor already feels the difference the effort is making for his patients and his own peace of mind.
“This whole practice is about restoring hope for patients by giving them the opportunity to wrest back control of their health care,” he said.