SAN ANTONIO — Right now, one in five families in San Antonio is facing a financial crisis due to medical emergency.

Those who can't make their payments often have to choose between eating and paying down their debt.

RELATED: How you can donate to help San Antonians erase medical debt

There is more than $231 million in medical debt that is plaguing families in San Antonio alone – so KENS 5 decided to do something about it.

Hundreds of area residents already have received a yellow envelope from us letting them know that their overdue medical debt has been paid off... no questions asked.

It's not just the uninsured who are having problems paying their bills.

People with medical insurance like Maria and Gilberto Yanez of Seguin are also struggling.

The couple has worked their entire lives.

They were making enough so they could help pay back their daughter's college loan until two years ago, when a car slammed into them, sending them both to the emergency room.

"He was taken to San Antonio Brooke Army (Medical Center), and he stayed for three days," Maria said.

While they have medical insurance, it wasn't enough to cover the ambulance, emergency physicians and the hospital stay.

"I get the bills. I don't even want to look at them. I was frustrated because I wasn't able to pay them."

"It's hard knowing it wasn't our fault," said Maria, breaking into tears.

The Yanez family's medical bills add up to nearly $40,000.

Collection agencies buy the debt for pennies on the dollar. They'll send bill after bill.

While their $40,000 in medical bills could be sold to collection agencies for as little as $400, the amount the Yanez family owes stays the same and can grow at 12% interest annually.

While the bills go up, their income has gone down.

"I work four hours a day. My back hurts really bad," Gilberto said.

This year, the government withheld their $1325 income tax refund to pay for part of their medical bill.

"I guess they're going to keep doing that until it gets paid off, but the interest keeps going and going. I don't know how long it's going to take us," Maria said.

After hearing stories like this one, KENS 5 committed to making a difference. So here's how we're helping:

We teamed up with RIP Medical Debt, a charitable organization that purchases medical debt from collectors at a deep discount and then forgives the debt.

KENS 5 wrote a check for $15,000 to buy more than $2 million worth of overdue medical debt in the San Antonio area, and we are forgiving every single cent.

If your debt is forgiven, you will get a letter in a yellow envelope. If you receive one, do not throw it away – this is for real!

The letters will go out to 287 people across our area. Here's the amount of debt that will be forgiven in each county:

  • Atascosa: $725,510.20
  • Bexar: $673,486.87
  • Comal: $521,163.39
  • Guadalupe: $37,392.04
  • Wilson: $65,994.31
  • Total: $2,023,546.81

KENS 5 does not know who is getting the yellow envelopes. That's chosen by the charity, and they are generally people who have incomes twice the poverty rate or below.

A sudden medical emergency doesn't just wreak chaos on a person's life. For many people, it takes a dangerous toll on their credit reports and financial security.

"I wanted to get a phone, and my credit didn't pass because my credit is all messed up," Maria said. "Before, we used to go to the mall to walk around and buy some nachos, and now that's hard."

"Hopefully one day we'll get out of this and life will go back to normal," she said.

Our relief is a random act of kindness: No one person or family can register for or be nominated for this. People are selected by the charity.

KENS 5 would like to help more families, but we need your help to do that.

If you'd like to make a difference for a local family in need of relief, please make a donation using the form below. Every dollar you donate will wipe out $100 of medical debt.

Q&A ABOUT THE KENS 5 MEDICAL DEBT PROGRAM

What is the program?

KENS 5 partnered with RIP Medical Debt, a charity group that buys overdue medical debt for pennies on the dollar and relieves the debt. KENS 5 paid $15,000 to the charity and was able to relieve over $2 million in debt for our viewers. Nearly 300 people in Bexar, Comal, Guadalupe, Atascosa and Wilson counties received a yellow envelope containing a letter that explained that their debt has been paid off.

Can I sign up to have my bills paid?

Unfortunately, no. The charity RIP Medical Debt handles all aspects of the selection process. They look for people with incomes twice the national poverty rate or less, or people who make more but whose debt puts them at twice the poverty rate. KENS 5 does not know the names of the debtors or their medical histories.

I received a yellow envelope… Now what?

First off, congratulations! The yellow envelope should display both the RIP Medical Debt logo and the KENS 5 logo. Inside, you will receive all the information you need to proceed. If you did get one, please contact KENS 5’s Deborah Knapp at dknapp@kens5.com. We would like to share your story!

Will there be any others in our area helped?

Yes! KENS 5 is currently accepting viewers’ donations, which will be used to purchase and relieve more medical debt in our area. For every $10 donated, $1,000 in debt can be relieved. You are encouraged to let your friends and family know about this by directing them to our website: KENS5.com/medicaldebt.