Crowdfunded Medical Care? Welcome to “The Twilight Zone”

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October 24, 2012; Source: NPR

The Holland Free Health Clinic in Holland, Mich. serves all comers, operating on an annual budget of less than $200,000 due to its reliance on all-volunteer labor. It was recently able to announce the receipt of a $65,000 grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan to increase its ability to provide free dental. In Greenville, S.C., 200 volunteer doctors at a free clinic serve 4,000 patients every year. Last month, a temporary free clinic in Los Angeles was slated to provide health care for nearly 5,000 people in only four days. The health crisis in this nation is serious, with people lining up for free services all around the nation. But what happens when a person needs more than basic or primary care? According to NPR, people who face serious illnesses are turning to crowdfunding sites to raise money to pay for their health care.

The CEO of the crowdfunding site GoFundMe, Brad Damphousse, says that in 2012, users have raised more than $6 million for medical causes, making it the most popular donation category on the site. Other crowdfunding sites also raise money for individuals’ medical causes, including GiveForward and YouCaring. Among the GoFundMe health campaigns is an effort to raise $200,000 for a medical trust fund for a survivor of the Aurora theater shootings; so far, $171,540 has been raised for the victim, Farrah Soudani, whose GoFundMe page was set up by a family friend the night she was shot.

We looked at some of the health-related fundraising appeals on GoFundMe. We found an effort to raise $250,000 for a friend who is suffering from unnamed “life-threatening injuries,” money for vitamin therapy for a person with stage four melanoma, support for a stroke victim’s cost of co-pays on procedures not covered by his medical insurance, 600 donations for a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma victim which amounted to more than $36,000 in eight days, etc.

Doesn’t this sound like a story written by the Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling? A game of winners and losers putting their health care up for a popularity contest? Between the thousands of people waiting in queues for a chance to be treated by a volunteer doctor or dentist at a free clinic and the desperate hopes of people with more serious illnesses hoping that strangers will help pay for their treatment, there is compelling, heart-breaking evidence of this nation’s rampaging health care crisis. Does this nation need anything more than crowdfunded health care to demonstrate how absolutely broken our nation’s health care system is or why this nation needs a muscular, effective implementation of health insurance reform? –Rick Cohen

  • Suzanne Hoban

    This is absolutely right on target. As the director of a charitable clinic, and coming from the annual conference of the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, I can attest to the frustration of many in our sector who are heartened by the willingness to give to others, but horrified that people must beg for health care. We try to provide comprehensive services whever we can, but we also recognize that in cases of serious illnesses or costly procedures and interventions, charity alone cannot pick up the slack. We are darlings on the right for not relying on government funding and darlings on the left for providing accessible care when all we really want to do is have the two sides come together to solve the issue.

  • Peter Hudson

    Rick, you stopped short at saying what sort of reform you have in mind. The primary question is more public funding and delivery, or less. If you look northwards at the Canadian system, the evidence suggests that the portions that are publicly funded and non-profit or state administered, are superior as measured by price and quality, in addition to the avoidance of the kind of desperation, pain and familial stresses described in your article. The main difficulties with the current Canadian system is that the Federal legislation covers only doctors and hospital services. The provinces are on their own when it comes to extended care, dental care, and a host of other services the most compelling of which is pharmacare. This last named is entirely controlled by the private-for-profit sector and is the main driver of health care costs in Canada, either to provincially funded programs or, to the extent to which they fall short, by the individual directly, or indirectly through a supplementary private insurance program. In short, the problem with the Canadian system, much maligned by private interests in the USA, is not that it is too public, but that it is too private. The efficiency (i.e. cost) key to a truly comprehensive public health care program is the single pay system. Obama’s attempts at reform did not even have that on the table, thanks to powerful lobbies from insurance and other for-profit interests. As well, there is a hysterical, paranoid aversion in the land of the free to anything that might be labelled as socialist, without bothering to look if it works or not. Sticking the “pinko” label on any attempt to better the human condition is sufficient to dismiss it. Is that what made you hesitate to bite the bullet? Incidentally, and regrettably, the same private interests threaten the public portion of the Canadian system.

  • rick cohen

    Dear Peter: No, I didn’t bite the bullet, as you put it, simply because it was a brief newswire. In my previous longer pieces (in the Cohen Report) on health care reform in the U.S., I made it pretty clear that I’m a strong supporter of a single payer system. thanks for your comment.

  • mike

    I hope to make some contracts with US charity organizations that are permitted legal activities

    in PRC. My intention is looking for some kind of sponsorship leader in the misson

    of setting up a medical tourism services in Hainan Island .Its goal is to provides effective

    cancer follow survivorship care for those millions of cancer survivors who are forgoing needed

    medical care because of concerns about cost in the US.

    The strategy is to establishe INTEGRATIV MEDICINE research and the services systems., TCM(

    traditional chinese medicine) is prime option for Alternative medicines.

  • allisonlee

    A lot of people often hear about crowdfunding, soliciting a large number of people for money online, and a number of things it is getting used for. Some people have lately been crowdfunding medical bills recently, and there are some things crowdfunding or crowdsourcing appear to be able to overcome.