Dr. Omar Atiq
Dr. Omar Atiq, an oncologist based in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, was always uncomfortable with the idea of exorbitant medical bills, particularly those that cancer patients have to foot. Thanks to him, 200 cancer patients were able to enter the year 2021 without any medical debt. Dr. Atiq, a medical oncologist for forty years, erased $650,000 of medical debt after closing his cancer clinic in March following nearly three decades in business. He made the decision to do so after working with a billing company for several months to try and collect payments from his former patients. At one point, he simply stopped reaching out, Good Morning America reports.
He shared in an interview with the news outlet, “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.” Of course, patients in steep medical debt would not have to rely on the kindness of their healthcare providers if the United States just enacted universal healthcare, but Dr. Atiq’s former patients were extremely lucky. Around Christmas, about 200 of his patients received a holiday greeting informing them of the good news.
“I hope this note finds you well,” it read. “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.” Some of the patients the oncologist treated had hospital bills amounting to thousands of dollars.
Dr. Atiq stated, “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. That’s always tugged at me.” The ongoing public health crisis has only exacerbated the issue. “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,” he said. “I saw patients over the years who just didn’t have anything or who went bankrupt trying to pay for their treatment. In many ways, it seems like a totally unfair situation.”
Bea Cheesman is the president of RMC of America, the billing company that worked with the oncologist. She called his decision to erase his former patients’ medical debt a “very kind gesture.” She told Good Morning America, “Dr. Atiq is a very caring individual and he’s always been extremely easy to work with as a client. 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.” However, Dr. Atiq just wanted to ease some of the struggles his patients were experiencing. “I just hope that it made it a little bit easier for them, that’s it,” he affirmed. “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.”