Saturday, October 27, 2012

High Health Care Costs Force Many To Crowd Source Medical Bills

While politicians clash over the details of health policy and President Obama’s landmark health reform law, social media often serves to cut through the political rhetoric and reveal the human impact of what’s at stake in this debate. When a musician tweeted about her experience going without insurance and received a flood of personal 140-character stories about the struggle to afford health care in response, it became clear that Internet tools can provide a platform for Americans to communicate the way that insurance — or the lack thereof — has changed their lives.

And NPR points out another corner of the Internet that reveals how much underinsured Americans are struggling to pay their health care costs: crowd funding sites like Kickstarter or GoFundMe. Although most Americans associate those sites with raising revenue for creative projects, there has also been an increase in the people who use them to raise money for their health care that they cannot otherwise afford:

One site that’s capitalized on personal-cause crowd funding is GoFundMe. CEO Brad Damphousse says in 2012 alone, the site’s users have raised more than $6 million for medical causes, and Medical, Illness & Healing is the site’s most popular category, attracting 17 percent of the site’s total donations. 
In exchange for help with creating a donation Web page and making it easy to share it on social media, GoFundMe takes a 5 percent cut from all money raised. GiveForward and YouCaring are two other sites in the business of medical crowd funding (GiveForward charges a 7 percent fee on money raised), and they also attract millions in donations. 
Some GoFundMe campaigns in the medical category range from modest requests for $1,000 to cover gas cards for parents to visit their baby son in the NICU, to ambitious goals to raise $200,000 for a medical trust fund (for one of the survivors of the Aurora theater shootings).

For the Americans who cannot afford insurance at some point in their lives, such as Aurora theater shooting victim Caleb Medley, just one unintended hospital visit can be catastrophic. Medley racked up nearly $2 million in medical bills after he was shot in the eye and slipped into a coma. And even the Americans who have insurance can accumulate charges they struggle to pay off in full, like the medical student who exceeded his insurance cap under his university health plan and turned to Twitter to raise the money for the rest of his bills.

Once Obamacare is fully implemented in 2014, the law will help address some of these cost barriers to care — particularly when it eliminates lifetime limits on health care plans, so Americans with chronic conditions don’t rack up costs that their insurance providers refuse to cover. But the soaring cost of health care still remains an issue for the millions of Americans who are uninsured and under-insured  and must turn to online tools when the rest of their options run out.

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