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Is Crowdsourcing the Answer to a Lack of Health Insurance?

Chris Hickman is a father of five living in Dallas, Texas and a 3D photographer for Matterport, a 3D and virtual reality technology company. His wife has been in and out of the hospital since January due to complications from a preexisting condition. In May, his child, Henry, suffered an injury as well.

“Henry fell off the friend’s trampoline and I received a frantic phone call. It’s humbling when your child is actively coping with pain management and fully trusting the adults that he is with,” Chris said in an online post. Despite Chris’s employment with Matterport, he does not have health insurance. Henry’s injury was quite severe, but when Chris received Henry’s first hospital bill, he knew it would be impossible to pay in full and still afford day-to-day expenses for the rest of his family.

Lisa Hinson has known and worked with Chris at Matterport for several years. When she and other friends heard about Henry’s injury, they knew they had to help.

“I wasn’t sure how to help him. We all wanted to reach out and do something but none of us knew what to do,” Lisa told The Politic. She ended up creating a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for Henry’s hospital bills. The campaign received over $4,000 in donations, many of which were from mutual friends or coworkers.

“I know some of them personally, I know a number of them very well virtually, and some of them that donated I don’t know because I encouraged people to share on their page so they got donations from possibly just friends of theirs.”

Internet crowdsourcing through sites like GoFundMe has become an increasingly popular option for individuals under financial duress. There are so many inspirational stories, campaigns to raise money for blind students in Nicaragua, to help a family that lost everything in a fire get back on their feet, or a simple GoFundMe campaign titled “Help me not live in my car,” the goal of which was happily reached.

But for every success story there are countless failures. A 2017 study conducted by the University of Washington examined two hundred GoFundMe campaigns from March to September of 2016, and observed that ninety percent of campaigns only reached forty percent of their listed goals. Lisa’s GoFundMe campaign, titled “Medical Bills – No Health Insurance” has raised $4,187 of the $4,500 goal as of October, 2018, a rare case.  

“I think with a lot of things people kind of lose interest over time,” said Lisa, noting that the frequency of donations to her campaign has decreased since she first created it. Unfortunately, Lisa’s campaign and the generosity of their friends, coworkers, and others was not quite enough to fully pay the Hickman’s medical bills. However, Chris was able to negotiate with the hospital so that ninety percent of Henry’s care was covered with the help of the funds raised by Lisa’s campaign.

So what are the options for those like Chris, without insurance, who find themselves faced with sizeable and urgent healthcare bills? The United States does not offer universal health care. Medicare provides health insurance to individuals over sixty-five and those with serious injuries or disabilities, regardless of employment status, and Medicaid is available to those under a certain annual income threshold (the qualifications for Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) in Texas are roughly $24,000 for an individual or $50,000 for a family of four).

According to a 2016 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, thirty-five percent of Americans receive Medicare or Medicaid, roughly half (forty-nine percent) receive health insurance through their employer, and nine percent, nearly thirty million Americans, are uninsured. In contrast with other countries, the United States does not provide the same degree of catastrophic coverage or universal coverage. Catastrophic coverage refers to major medical emergencies, which differ from regular check-up costs. However, measures have been taken to ease the financial responsibility of American citizens. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), passed in 2010, implemented several reformatory measures that lower contributions to health care costs for households that fall between one hundred percent and four hundred percent of federal poverty levels, and offer coverage for pre-existing conditions. But there are still costs that Medicaid and the ACA cannot cover. Howard Forman, a health economics professor at the Yale School of Management, commented on the complex nature of health care costs.  

“If somebody’s sick and you have to quit your job to take care of them at home that could also bankrupt you, and that’s not covered. So it’s never as simple as just saying it’s covered because the medical bills themselves would presumably not bankrupt you if you’re on Medicaid but anything above Medicaid becomes a little bit more dicey,” Professor Forman told The Politic.

What it comes down to is circumstance. Every individual has individually unique health care needs throughout their life, and no amount of policy can accurately predict the needs of three hundred million citizens. What can be done is to encourage healthcare providers to mandate that their employed physicians accept whatever coverage is offered by insurance providers (namely individual employers). If this is accomplished, care will be provided regardless of the level of coverage provided by individual insurance, translating only into reduced payment for the physicians themselves. The majority of Americans have some form of medical insurance, but this coverage is often inadequate, particularly in the face of long-term care or recurring conditions. Of course, this is dependent on the cooperation of practicing physicians, but would be a significant step towards relieving health care costs for the country as a whole.