Dr Omar Atiq and his wife Mehreen. File photo
A Pakistani-American doctor has given nearly 200 patients a Christmas gift that he hoped would make their lives “a little bit easier,” erasing their more than half a million dollars in medical debt, according to media reports.
Dr Omar Atiq, who founded a cancer clinic in 1991 in Pine Bluff in the US state of Arkansas, sent out a notice to his patients just days before Dec.25 saying "the clinic has decided to forego all balances owed to the clinic by its patients,” according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
The newspaper reported that Dr Atiq, an oncologist who received his medical degree from Khyber Medical College, Peshawar, had closed the clinic in February after nearly 30 years of providing cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Atiq told ABC TV’s “Good Morning America” news programme in an interview published on Friday that he had worked with a billing company for months to collect any remaining payments from patients, but eventually decided to stop contacting them.
Dr Omar Atiq (2nd left) with his wife and children. Twitter photo
As of December, the clinic still had a total of nearly $650,000 in outstanding patient bills, according to Dr Atiq, who is also a professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock.
"Over time I realised that there are people who just are unable to pay,” Dr Atiq said, adding that he and his wife, Mehreen, 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 added.
"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,” Dr Atiq said.
In the notice to his patients, Dr Atiq wrote that, "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,” Dr Atiq continued, before telling patients that all remaining debts would be forgiven. "Happy Holidays,” the doctor added.
Dr Atiq told “Good Morning America” that he saw erasing of debts as "something we could at least do to help the community,” especially amid the economic crisis spurred by the coronavirus pandemic.
Bea Cheesman, president of RMC of America, the billing company that worked with Dr Atiq, said that Dr Atiq’s decision to forgive all remaining debts was a "very kind gesture.”
"Dr Atiq is a very caring individual and he’s always been extremely easy to work with as a client,” Cheesman said. "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.”
NNI News Service
“In the last few days, I have felt all sorts of feelings, from apprehension and fear to unbeatable love to calmness and acceptance. Patience, overwhelming gratitude and a deep sense of responsibility towards my children, parents, loved ones, myself and you.”
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