Unhealthy: Why GoFundMe Isn’t the Answer for an Underinsured America

If you’re on social media, you’ve undoubtedly had your heartstrings pulled by numerous crowdfunding campaigns featuring tragic stories of those unable to pay for life-saving medical treatments or burdened by astronomical amounts of medical debt; you may have even donated to some of them.

Medical crowdfunding success stories are routinely featured in the media, and GoFundMe—the largest crowdfunding service in the world—proudly displays such stories across their website. When browsing their medical fundraisers , you’ll see currently trending campaigns that have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover treatment costs and debt. Currently at the top of their list are campaigns for a Texas man fighting cancer ($676,152 of $500,000 goal), a ninety-two-year-old assault victim ($327,345 of $15,000 goal), and a young girl battling lymphoma who’s raised $315,326 of her $1 million goal for a bone-marrow transplant. Pretty impressive, but is this the norm? And why are these campaigns with enormous fundraising goals necessary in the first place?

Crowdfunding campaigns for health services have become ubiquitous in this age of social media and skyrocketing medical costs. GoFundMe CEO Rob Solomon recently stated that medical fundraisers account for one in three of the site’s campaigns, and the company claims it raises over $650 million annually for more than 250,000 medical campaigns. This generosity—largely fueled by small donations from average Americans—is all well and good, but for every crowdfunding success story there are many more failures. A study from 2017 found that 90 percent of all medical GoFundMe campaigns never reach their goal and a huge portion of these campaigns never receive a single donation. Clearly, a disturbing number of people are left behind by the crowdfunding of medical services. What’s more disturbing are the multitudes of people hung out to dry by the American healthcare system in general.

Approximately 40 percent of all American adults are uninsured or underinsured, unable to meet their healthcare needs. With the Republicans’ repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate effective in 2019, that number will continue to climb. Without the legal requirement to purchase health insurance, healthy people are sure to leave the insurance market. This will drive insurance premiums further upward, and healthcare costs are already at an all-time high.

It’s no secret that Americans pay more for healthcare than any other country in the world. Estimates by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development put total health expenditures in the US at more than $10,000 per person. By comparison, the average country in the OECD spends just over $4,000 per person. The 2018 Milliman Medical Index estimates the cost of healthcare for a “typical” American family of four covered by an employer insurance program at $28,166, and the share that employees pay themselves is steadily increasing.

One might think that this high cost would lead to better health services, but that assumption would be terribly mistaken. Life expectancy in the United States is the tenth-worst among OECD countries, and our infant mortality rate is the twelfth-worst. These poor health outcomes are in large part due to the lack of affordability of healthcare. Poor Americans routinely forgo the healthcare they need simply because they cannot afford it, and people are turning to friends, family, crowdfunding, and other forms of charity to fill the gap.

Let me be clear: relying on charity to close the gap of unmet healthcare costs is both ineffective and immoral. Charity, especially crowdfunding, exacerbates the inequality that has already left millions of Americans unable to meet their health needs.

How? If you take a look at GoFundMe’s most successful medical campaigns, you’ll notice many of them have a few things in common. Most have high quality photos and lengthy, well-written descriptions of the family or individual’s predicament. Putting together a well-designed crowdfunding campaign takes a lot of time, resources, and education—three things that poor folks undergoing extensive health treatments seldom have—and gives a serious fundraising advantage to those who are more well off. This alone leaves the most unfortunate behind in the dust, but the issue becomes even worse when you consider the advantage well-networked families have over others. GoFundMe rightly encourages its beneficiaries to reach out to friends, family, coworkers, etc. to jump-start their fundraiser, but what about the people with no family, few friends, or a non-existent personal network? Are they less deserving of health services? Of course not.

Charity, although wonderful for those who receive it, is simply not a feasible solution to America’s growing healthcare crisis. We need real solutions, and we need them fast.

A universal, single-payer healthcare system would correct many of the forces driving healthcare costs forever upwards, and would alleviate the financial and emotional strain for anyone seeking medical services. Single-payer would make care more efficient by streamlining billing processes and reducing administrative costs (the OECD estimates billing and administration account for 8 percent of total healthcare costs in the United States, compared to an average of 3 percent in other developed countries). It would increase quality of care through the sharing of patient information in a national medical database, and we wouldn’t have to fill out new medical forms every time we visit a new doctor. Under a universal, single-payer system, people would be more inclined to seek out preventative health care and early medical treatments. This means less need for expensive and intensive medical care, but more importantly it means a healthier, more productive populous.

The 2018 midterm elections are fast approaching, and healthcare is the number-one issue on voters’ minds. It is illogical and morally reprehensible that the wealthiest country in the world is one of the few to not guarantee healthcare for all of its citizens. A majority of Americans support single-payer healthcare—it’s time we elect politicians who believe and will work for the same.