GoFundMe: America’s Socialized Medicine for the Poor

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Madison Tanner, Writer

Seven-year-old Liza Scott opened a lemonade stand at her mother’s store, Savage’s Bakery in Homewood, Alabama, to earn money to put towards buying toys. This was last summer. The stand is still going strong today, but the money is going to a different cause. Liza Scott’s brain surgery. 

In February, doctors found that a series of seizures Liza had suffered had been caused by cerebral malformations. Despite running a popular bakery and having good insurance, Liza’s mother, Elizabeth Scott, worried about the exuberant costs of the treatment. She said of the situation, “Just one week in the hospital and the ambulance rides is more than my monthly salary and that’s without the surgery and travel expenses.” 

So the purpose of the stand has changed. What was once a run-of-the-mill lemonade stand, the kind you might see or read about in any heartwarming news article is now helping fund the medical expenses of a seven-year-old girl. 

Luckily for the Scott family, word has traveled past the Birmingham suburb and reached the ears of many people eager to help. In just a few days, the stand has raised around $12,000, in addition to the $300,000 already raised by friends and family of the Scotts. 

So while this story has a happy ending, is this the kind of story that we should enjoy reading about? Should we as a society be happy to read that a little girl is relying solely on the kindness of strangers to get her the urgent care she needs? 

More and more people are turning to crowdfunding for their medical expenses because they would not be able to afford it otherwise. Through fundraisers like Liza Scott’s lemonade stand or through crowdfunding websites, this phenomenon is more likely than you might think. One popular fundraising site, GoFundMe, reported that one in every three fundraising campaigns is for a medical expenditure. 

So, is this a good thing? As one Bob Jones student put it, “I think it’s absurd that people should have to resort to something like crowdfunding to afford medical care. no one should be afraid to get the care they need just because they don’t know if they can afford it.”

Or to put it succinctly as Matthew Stern did, “It shouldn’t need to exist.”

And I’d find myself inclined to agree with him. While the moral intentions of these crowdfunding campaigns are pure, their very existence is a sad reflection on the state of America’s healthcare system.

Healthcare costs in America are on the rise and have been for decades. From 2008 to 2018 alone, the average cost of a hospital admission among large employer plans increased by roughly $10,000 (68%).  Relative to the economy, healthcare costs have increased from 5 percent of the GDP in 1960 to 18 percent in 2018. But despite this increase in healthcare costs, the outcome remains poor. Compared to the average OECD countries, the U.S spends nearly twice as much on healthcare but has the lowest life expectancy. America has the highest obesity rates, highest chronic disease burden, and highest suicide rates. We are, to be frank, not getting what we pay for when it comes to healthcare.

One reason for these high prices is market competition. Competition is unusually weak in the healthcare industry, between consolidation of medical providers, barriers to entry into the field, and the closing of hospitals, the high market concentration means that providers can set high prices without losing customers. 

Another is surprise billing. If you don’t know what that is, consider yourself lucky. Surprise billing is when insured patients find out (after receiving health-care services at an in-network facility) that a provider was outside of their insurance network and is consequently much more expensive than they had anticipated. This raises the cost for consumers and lets providers charge higher prices than what had been negotiated by the insurer. 

So, with these high prices comes insecurity and a fear of an unexpected medical expense being the final nail in the coffin of relative financial security. For the poor and even the moderately well off, a medical bill could be the difference between security and bankruptcy. 

Crowdfunding is providing us a security net to fall back on for when we can’t afford our treatments. Except, the holes in the net are so large that it can’t catch everyone, and more people are falling through the gaps than being caught. If you find yourself staring down the barrel, pray your story is heart wrenching enough to draw attention to your situation. 

Healthcare in America has become a popularity contest, one where if you lose, you die.