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The harsh reality of having to crowdfund your life-saving medical expenses

By Yair Oded

Dec 14, 2018

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A two year old waiting for a cell transplant. A mother of two battling with cancer. A hit and run victim struggling to recover and a 92 year old man brutally punched in the face. These represent just a mere fraction of the growing number of Americans who turn to crowdfunding to pay for their medical bills.

In a country whose motto is ‘get rich on your own or shut up and die alone’ and where 40 percent of the citizens cannot cover a $400 medical expense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that more and more people go online in hopes of convincing strangers that their plight is worthy of compassion… and a donation.

GoFuneMe has become a popular hub of crowdfunding for medical expenses among Americans. According to Rob Solomon, the company’s CEO, 1 in every 3 of the website’s crowdfunding campaigns seeks to cover medical bills. While the company has thus far declined to reveal precisely how many such campaigns there are, a visit to its webpage indicates that the numbers are staggering, and cover a wide range of medical ailments and emergencies—from cancer-related operations and organ transplants to car accidents and gunshot wounds. According to the Outline, the cumulative goal of GoFundMe’s medical campaigns reaches nearly $140 million.

The issue has gained national attention after several cases of people gathering donations for medical expenses online went viral and resulted in a public outcry. One of these people was Hedda, a woman who needed a heart transplant and was rejected as a candidate by her clinic due to her lack of a “secure financial plan.” The clinic then recommended that Hedda resort to crowdfunding to cover the costs of her operation. After posting a copy of the rejection letter on Twitter, Hedda was lucky enough to win the attention of thousands across the country, as well as a retweet by recently elected House of Representatives member Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. As one may predict, no one goes ignored while on the Ocasio Cortez train, and so Hedda’s campaign ended up exceeding its initial goal by more than $10,000. Alas, the overwhelming majority of campaigns do not go viral or get a boost from rising political stars. Which begs the questions, what happens to those who do not reach their goal?

Launching GoFundMe campaigns as a source of medical support is a result of multiple ills in the country’s structure, including crippling corporate greed and a failed healthcare system. Despite the fact that the U.S. spends more on healthcare than any other country in the world, it nonetheless ranks last in healthcare quality among developed nations. While the situation improved slightly following the passing of the Obama Care Act, the are still roughly 28 million Americans who have no health coverage at all. Furthermore, even those who do have insurance often fail to have their medical needs met and bills covered due to bureaucratic challenges, exorbitant co-pay requirements and inadequate healthcare plans.

How can the U.S. get out of this mess? Some say that a blue Congress in the new year will mean good news for the millions of Americans who pray to go viral in order to cover their medical expenses. Representatives such as incoming Alexandria Ocasio Cortez from New York are fighting hard for single payer health coverage, and seeing as healthcare constituted the linchpin of the November midterm elections and was the issue that restored the Democrats’ control of the House, some are hopeful that their efforts will bear healthcare fruits.

Ultimately, there is no doubt that a fair and functioning healthcare system could be a reality in America. It’s obvious that through reallocation of resources and addressing the obstacles head-on (such as big pharma lobbying and tax cuts to the wealthy that come at the expanse of social programmes), Americans can establish a proper healthcare mechanism that doesn’t pale in comparison to its counterparts in other developed nations.

Yet, an exhaustive reshaping of healthcare policy will only occur in tandem with a sweeping shift in the nation’s collective psyche as far as social benefits are concerned. For changes to be reflected on a governmental level, and for sufficient pressure to be exerted against pharma gargoyles and big donor leeches, the public must first become (at least somewhat) united in its conviction that a government for the people, and by the people, is responsible to grant its citizens basic services such as access to quality healthcare. It’s a simple matter of determining whether the country views one’s aspiration to lead a life of dignity and health as a human right or a privilege.