‘Crowdfunding’ Helps Patients with Burdensome Medical Bills

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Are you familiar with the term “crowdfunding”? If not, then this is your chance to catch up on the latest way in which patients are paying their medical expenses.

Several news organizations covered this phenomenon in 2012, including MedCity News, AARP, The Sacramento Bee, and just this past week, USA Today.

In an article by Cheryl Alkon, USA Today reports “an estimated $2.8 billion was raised by all types of crowdfunding websites in 2012.”

What is crowdfunding? Wikipedia defines it as “the collective effort of individuals who network and pool their money, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations… [It] is used in support of a wide variety of activities, including disaster relief, citizen journalism, support of artists by fans, political campaigns, startup-company funding, movie or free software development, inventions development, and scientific research.” And now, it is being used to help patients meet their medical expenses.

Alkon writes, “When Matthew Foutz helped co-found the Human Tribe Project, a crowdfunding website that helps people raise funds for medical or other kinds of crises, he never thought he’d end up using it for his own family.”

Foutz’s seven-year-old daughter Mia “was diagnosed with a brain tumor” and the resulting chemotherapy and radiation treatments “left [her] with permanent memory, mobility, and endocrine issues.” Although cured, Foutz says that Mia now needs “tons of rehab, and insurance only goes so far. In this day and age, there’s no recourse for families that are going through this, because insurance companies raise your rates and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Where insurance companies don’t step up, however, the generosity of friends, relatives, and strangers often does.

Alkon reports that sites like the Human Tribe Project, GoFundMe, FundRazr, and GiveForward are providing outlets through which individuals and families burdened by excessive medical bills can “ ask friends, and friends of friends, to consider making a donation, or, in the case of Human Tribe Project, purchasing a necklace or key chain, where the item’s cost includes a donation. These can include situations such as fundraising for a loved one’s cancer diagnosis, aftercare following an accident, fertility treatments, or even replacing a pair of eyeglasses held together with duct tape.”

These sites take on new significance when one considers “that medical costs are the No. 1 reason for bankruptcy in the USA.”

Seventeen percent of the money raised in 2012 on GoFundMe fell under the “’medical, illness, and healing’ category,” and 58 percent of the $20 million donated via FundRazr since its July 2010 launch falls into the same health-oriented category. In just two years, Foutz himself has raised $11,520 through his own Human Tribe Project, which “says it has gifted more than $175,000 since it launched in July 2009, and the site’s goal is to raise funds for medical causes only.”

“Typically, people can use a crowdfunding site to tell their story about why they need money, using blogs and updates to keep potential donors informed,” Alkon writes. Amazingly, scams haven’t been a significant problem.

One philanthropy consultant who was interviewed for the article believes that the reason why these sites are having such an impact is because “the personal element is a lot more compelling than sending a check to a charity…Doing that is anonymous and you can’t relate, but if it’s your friend who has cancer, you want to help.”

So, here’s a thought. Not only can hospitals reference patients to these sites when they run into problems with insurance companies and paying their medical bills, but maybe hospitals can also use these sites to rally people around their fundraising needs.

What do you think? How could this phenomenon that is truly unique to our technologically evolving culture benefit you and your organization in its mission?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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