“It’s sad that it has come to this — basically people are raising (money for) their own health care because the health care system is so broken here.” — Neal Zundell
Sad is certainly one word for it.
Dismaying is another. Infuriating. Outrageous.
The Zundells of Chicago have raised more than $120,000 through the crowdsourcing website GoFundMe to help cover medical costs for their 7-year-old son, Izzy, who has a progressive central nervous system disorder.
And on one hand it’s heartwarming that friends, colleagues, neighbors, family and strangers have kicked in to help pay for Izzy’s $1,250-a-week physical therapy sessions, the $11,000-a-year Pedialyte formula he needs and other costs of his illness not covered by the family’s insurance. Sweet. Touching. Inspiring.
But on the other hand, come on.
There are a reported 250,000 GoFundMe campaigns per year related to medical costs, the largest category on the site, and an analysis by the personal finance site NerdWallet found that nearly half of all the money raised on the site is related to health care. And this doesn’t count campaigns on other crowdsourcing sites such as Plumfund and Help Hope Live, and the old-school, community-based charitable efforts to assist the ailing such as raffles, auctions, races and outings.
If you spend any time on social media, you’re regularly subjected to touching yet ultimately numbing solicitations related to cancer, strokes, premature births, mental health crises, injuries, heart attacks, rare or chronic debilitating diseases and so on.
Here we are, in the richest, most technologically advanced nation in history, and our system for funding health care is so porous that we’ve turned hundreds of thousands of Americans into beggars rattling their digital tin cups and revealing their most intimate afflictions at their most vulnerable moments to try to avoid deep financial hardship or ruin for the “sin” of being unlucky.
Disgraceful. Scandalous. Embarrassing.
In late 2017, a Gallup survey estimated that 12.2 percent of U.S. adults lacked health insurance coverage. That’s down from 18 percent prior to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) but still represents close to 30 million people.
Analysts expect that number to climb when the ACA’s mandate to purchase insurance is lifted in 2019 and as states continue to trim Medicaid benefits.
“Despite the progress made with the Affordable Care Act, there are ever-widening gaps in coverage for treatment, prescriptions and related health care costs, even for patients with insurance,” said a statement GoFundMe provided to Yahoo Finance for a recent story. “However, while GoFundMe can provide timely, critical help to people facing health care crises, we do not aim to be a substitute social safety net.”
That the company nevertheless has become a substitute social safety net is troubling. Unacceptable. Borderline immoral.
The kindness of strangers turns out to be a poor substitute for the universal health care coverage provided by every other highly developed nation.
Studies have found that only roughly 1 in 10 of GoFundMe’s health-related campaigns meets its goal. So add “ineffective” to the list of applicable adjectives.
These ubiquitous, often piteous campaigns are a symptom of what ails us, not a cure.
Each plea on social media, each importunate email, is a reminder that our profit-based health care system isn’t getting the job done. We spend vastly more on health care per capita and as a percentage of GDP than every other developed nation, but because of inequities in the system we rate dismally compared with the rest of the developed world in life expectancy, infant and maternal mortality and deaths from preventable diseases.
Yes, the ailing who live in countries with universal health care also seek help through crowdsourcing, usually to cover unconventional or extraordinary therapies and the sorts of costs associated with health emergencies, such as job loss, that insurance is not designed to cover. No system can ever fully cushion everyone from the ravages of being human and the cruelness of fate.
And although we should be proud that so many of us volunteer to give so much to those who are suffering so greatly, we should also see these sad campaigns as motivating, galvanizing, electrifying.
We must do better.
Eric Zorn is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.