February 3, 2021

How Americans crowdsource their medical bills, in charts

Daily Briefing

    Nearly 27% of campaigns on the crowdfunding site GoFundMe between May 2010 and December 2018 were seeking funds for medical bills, and Americans from 2018 to 2019 were far more likely to seek crowdfunding for routine medical care than individuals in Canada or the United Kingdom, according to two new studies published in JAMA.

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    More than a quarter of GoFundMe campaigns were for medical bills

    For one of the studies, researchers looked at data from GoFundMe on 1,056,455 fundraisers hosted on the site between May 2010 and December 2018.

    Overall, the researchers found that 26.7% of the fundraisers hosted on the site during that time sought funds to cover costs related to health care. In total, those fundraisers sought almost $10.3 billion in funds to cover health care-related costs. As of April 2019, they raised about $3.7 billion, the researchers found.

    The researchers found that the largest portion of those fundraisers were related to costs for cancer care, at about 35%. Other health-care related fundraisers sought funding for costs related to trauma/injury (19.1%), neurological conditions (17.4%), and cardiovascular conditions (3.6%).

    According to the researchers, the number of GoFundMe campaigns seeking funds to cover medical bills increased significantly over the course of the study period. In 2010, the researchers found there were 42 fundraising campaigns on GoFundMe for health care-related costs, seeking a total of $717,125. In 2018, however, there were 119,373 health care-related GoFundMe campaigns seeking over $4.6 billion, the researchers found.

    Americans more likely to seek crowdfunding for routine medical care

    For the second study, researchers looked at 3,396 GoFundMe campaigns for individuals in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States that were hosted on the site between February 2018 and March 2019 and were designed to raise money to cover medical expenses.

    Some of the campaigns were for individuals primarily seeking money to cover the costs of routine medical care, the researchers found. Among those fundraisers, 77.9% were for people living in the United States, 21.9% were for people living in Canada, and 26.6% were for people living in the United Kingdom.

    The researchers also found that, among fundraisers for individuals in all three countries, the campaigns were most commonly seeking money for individuals who'd been diagnosed with cancer. In Canada and the United Kingdom, neurological illness was the second-most common diagnosis among individuals who'd benefit from the fundraisers. In the United States, however, trauma was the second-most common diagnosis among individuals who'd benefit from the fundraisers.

    The median goal of the GoFundMe campaigns designed to raise money to cover medical expenses in United States was $50,000, compared with a median goal of $19,000 in Canada and $13,200 in the United Kingdom. The median goal of the fundraisers among all three countries was $30,000. In total, just 33.4% of the campaigns met their goals, the researchers found.

    The researchers also found that, overall, Black individuals raised 11.5% less in health care-related GoFundMe campaigns than non-Black individuals. In addition, males raised 5.9% more than females, according to the researchers.

    'An absolute moral outrage'

    Suveen Angraal, a second-year resident at the University of Missouri and a co-author of the first study, said platforms like GoFundMe "have just shown how bad the situation is" when it comes to people not being able to afford medical care. "This more reflects the ongoing problem with the cost of health care than revealing a new issue that the cost is rising," Angraal added.

    In a statement, GoFundMe said the site is able to "provide timely, critical help to people facing health care crisis," but the site does not "aim to be a substitute social safety net."

    The company added, "A fundraising platform cannot and should not be a solution to complex, systemic problems that must be solved with meaningful public policy ... action must be taken at the local, state, and federal levels of government to make this a reality for all Americans."

    Separately, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said of the findings, "It is an absolute moral outrage that in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, our people are forced to hold online fundraisers amounting to billions of dollars just to get the medical care they need to stay alive." He added, "The time is long overdue for America to join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee health care as a human right for all" (Belmonte, Yahoo Finance, 1/26).

     

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