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Not All GoFundMe Campaigns Bring Consumers Reprieve from Medical Care Costs

As consumers across the country grapple with the high cost of medical care, more and more are looking for alternatives to help supplement their coverage. Many have turned to crowd funding websites, like GoFundMe, to help pay for expenses that surprise bills and insurance denials leave on their plate. While the platform can be wildly successful for those who are able to go viral, not all are so lucky. Its popularity further highlights the number of consumers who remain under or uninsured, GQ writes.

Crowdfunding mostly swims across our timelines in the guise of inspirational news stories about mothers saved from cancer, or citizens of the entire country coming together to provide aid after natural disasters, or kids turning to virtual lemonade stands to aid family members with leukemia. But beyond these inspirational stories, crowdfunding is also necessary for millions of Americans: according to a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, some 3 percent of Americans—nearly 10 million people—have created a crowdfunding project of their own... For ten million people, life-saving care is a function of being able to appeal to a crowd of strangers, to the blink-and-you’ll-miss it nature of the attention economy.

Between 2010 and 2017, GoFundMe raised $5 billion, according to data from the site. While the site helps individuals raise money for a broad range of causes, the number of health care related fundraisers is especially prolific. Earlier this year, HuffPost ran a series entitled “Life & Debt,” which highlighted consumers across the country who have turned to the platform to help with medical expenses. According to GQ, a search for “cancer” on GoFundMe found roughly 3.1 million results; “health insurance” resulted in more than 1 million. Campaign after campaign highlights consumers searching for a last resort to make ends meet.

With so many consumers looking for help, it is not surprising that some campaigns fare better than others. GoFundMe’s algorithm helps perpetuate a campaign’s success, meaning “campaigns with recent donations are more likely to crop up while browsing the site.” Browsing the site can be a painful reminder that not all those who seek help on the platform will find what they are looking for.

It’s the dark shadow of the viral success story, of the whole town coming together for a charity clambake, of the fully-funded child beaming from beneath a web of tubes. Under a thin scrim of inspirational success is an ocean of pain, of loss, of fear and precarity. Clicking through each is a public window into private pain. Cumulatively, it is a source of rage.

GoFundMe says that while it works to help consumers receive “timely, critical help” in times of crisis, the website alone is not an answer for the nation’s larger health care issues. These issues are not lost on consumers, not just those who turn to the site. Consumers for Quality Care and Ipsos have found that 91 percent of consumers want to better understand their health care costs and 88 percent want lowering costs to be priority for Washington.

[C]licking through the stories, the mind strains to understand how we have failed so many people so badly. How can we have failed Alfreda, who is working three jobs to afford her daughter’s cerebral palsy treatment? The baclofen pump is failing sooner than expected and the bills are due. And she loves her daughter. And she’s raised $350 out of a $10,000 goal.


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