Dr. Omar Atiq, a retiring Pakistani-American doctor wiped away $650,000 in medical debt from 200 of his patients with cancer as a gift.
Dr. Omar is an oncologist who founded a cancer treatment center in Pine Bluff, Arkansas and he forgave the amount as a holiday gift to patients before Christmas.
He had been operating cancer patients for close to 30 years before he was forced to close in March as a result of staff shortages. The oncologist decided to send a Christmas card to former patients informing them that their outstanding balances had been wiped.
He 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.
“Over time I realised that there are people who just are unable to pay,” Atiq told “Good Morning America”. The cancer doctor made the decision along with his wife, Mehreen, “So my wife and I, as a family, we thought about it and looked at forgiving all the debt”.
The week of Christmas, 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.”
He added “Unfortunately, that is the way our healthcare 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.”
The patients who received the notice had medical debt totaling from hundreds to thousands of dollars for their cancer treatments, according to doctor Atiq.
“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.
“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, called his decision 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 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.”