Crowdfunding isn’t for medical care

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | May 3, 2017

Fundraising to pay medical bills unacceptable

The World Wide Web has given birth to many valuable projects and one of the most popular and successful is called crowdfunding. While the practice of requesting funds to support a cause predates the internet (Fundable.com reports that crowdfunding dates back to the 1700s, when Irish author Jonathan Swift offered loans to low-income families), the idea took off when online platforms such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo and GoFundMe were launched between 2007 and 2010. Additionally, social media sites help bring exposure to these campaigns.

Today, crowdfunding falls into a few basic models: lending, reward and donation-based funding. New startup companies in the tech world have gotten their breaks by successful crowdfunding campaigns, and a popular reality TV show, Shark Tank, is based on the same principle.

Crowdfunding is big business. Massolution, which tracks crowdfunding, reported that total global crowdfunding raised an estimated $34 billion in 2015, up from $16.2 billion in 2014. More than $17 billion was raised in North America.

Charity organizations have been successful in crowdfunding through sites such as CrowdRise. There are even Catholic crowdfunding platforms such as WonderWe, Catholic Funder, CatholicCrowd and FlowerFund (as in St. Therese).

While crowdfunding has been a boon to entrepreneurs and artists alike, it has also exposed a weakness in the U.S. health care system. Judging by the number of medical crowdfunding campaigns (GoFundMe.com reports these causes outrank all of its other appeals), more and more citizens are turning to crowdfunding to help pay for medical emergencies. It’s no wonder, when the main cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States has been due to staggering medical costs.

A century of Catholic social teaching — as well as numerous papal encyclicals — calls access to health care a basic human right. So why should Americans be forced to turn to online fundraising for medical expenses?

It’s a subject addressed by Michael Young and Ethan Scheinberg of Harvard Medical School in the Journal of the American Medical Association article, “The rise of Crowdfunding for Medical Care: Promises and Perils,” written April 25.

“It is troublesome that many individuals must resort to medical crowdfunding to fill gaps not met by health care insurers, charities, or other safety net institutions that exist to serve this very purpose,” the authors write.

They also see unfair advantages for campaigns run by social media-savvy fund seekers, and they address other legal and ethical concerns of crowdfunding specific to medical professionals.

The Affordable Care Act was established to help Americans avoid the risk of medical and financial disaster and to avoid the need to crowdfund for medical bills. While the ACA was not (and is not) perfect, it offers a viable alternative for the working poor and unemployed.

In a 2012 National Institutes of Health article on crowdfunding for medical expenses, Dr. Ida Hellander, director of health policy for the Physicians for a National Health Program, stated that the growth of crowdfunding sites points to a need for cultural change in America. “It reflects the unethical and immoral health care system that pushes its citizens to have to essentially beg for money on the internet,” she said.

The concept of crowdfunding for health care does another disservice: it takes the obligation of our society and elected leaders to create a strong and effective health care system. Congressional efforts to replace the ACA with the amended American Health Care Act (AHCA) will likely increase the need to crowdfund medical expenses.

Let’s not go there. Making America great should mean making health care affordable and available to all, without requiring grieving families to raise funds on the internet.

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