Health care is perhaps one of the most loaded terms for millennials, right alongside student debt and unpaid internships. Despite the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, which allowed individuals to stay on their parents’ health care plan until age 26 and implemented the individual mandate in 2014, receiving medical care at an affordable cost is a challenge for those who struggle to make ends meet. High deductibles and patchy coverage mean even those with health insurance often run the risk of being bankrupt by the high cost of care.
When illness does strike, more and more people are turning to crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe to raise money for necessary care. Sites such as Fundly, Indiegogo Life, and GiveForward are a lifeline not just for millennials, but people of all ages as they struggle to pay out-of-pocket costs for loved ones or themselves. But the help does come with costs and risks, including putting your personal struggles in front of an audience and relying on the kindness of the public to provide the necessary funds. And in the event funding targets aren’t met, many find themselves back at square one.
The risks of high deductibles, other out-of-pocket costs, and no insurance coverage are particularly significant for millennials. Our generation is the least likely age group to have insurance, with some studies finding that 1 in 4 do not have any coverage. We also have very few assets, such as cars or homes, and no significant emergency savings. The median net worth of the 18-35 year old is just $10,400, while the next age bracket up clocks in at $46,700. An estimated half of us live paycheck to paycheck, and even covering an unexpected $2,000 bill can be a financial catastrophe.
Abby, who shared her story via email, was 23 weeks pregnant when her son Cohen was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, a condition that causes fluid buildup and pressure deep within the brain. After three brain surgeries within four months of birth, she and her partner Matt learned about a clinical trial at Duke University. The trial consisted of infusing umbilical cord blood back into the bloodstream, where stem cells help repair damaged brain cells. “Because it was a trial, our insurance would not cover the infusion, and we were short on funds for travel expenses.”
The couple turned to GoFundMe, one of the largest and best known crowdfunding sites, after Abby learned of a friend’s campaign. After a few restless days of consideration, Abby and Matt took the plunge, and were blown away by the support they received. “Our first day we raised over $1,000; needless to say, I was in tears for a good week.” Between GoFundMe, direct donations, and community fundraisers, they were able to raise $40,000, well over their original target of $15,000.
For a generation used to the anchor weight of debt, crowdfunding for high medical costs does offer some distinct advantages. By collecting small donations from many sources, the burden is spread in a way that doesn’t cause significant hardship to anyone. It also saves the campaigner from high interests on loans or other financially crippling alternatives. “It’s always awkward asking for money, especially in such a public setting. But I felt like most people were understanding when it came to a child with medical complications.”
While the immediate urgency of a child in need is apparent, others have turned to crowdfunding for future medical costs. Kate’s husband Aaron was recently diagnosed with a rare and newly discovered gene mutation called GATA2. “This means that he is more prone to develop a variety of auto-immune deficiencies, leukemia, or lung cancer, and he is likely to need a bone marrow transplant at some point in the future,” Kate shared via email. The mutation is hereditary, and there is a 50/50 chance it could be passed down to their children. So the young couple have started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money towards future IVF treatment.
Kate shared Abby’s hesitations about starting a public crowdfunding campaign. “Our campaign is so different. We are asking for help to bring new life into the world. It’s definitely a different angle and a different end goal.” She also sees other crowdfunding campaigns for life-threatening illnesses and critical care needs, and recognizes the uniqueness of their case. “I have to step back and just realize how lucky we are to have the support that we do, without any negative reactions or resistance, in a situation that is nowhere near as urgent or horrific.”
So far, Kate says people have been very supportive. “Our donations have come primarily from friends, and often people who we have not seen or spoken to in years. Those are the donations that you see that just stop you in your tracks. Like, ‘Whoa. I haven’t seen her since high school and she just donated $50.00.’ How can you thank someone for that?”
But Kate and Aaron have struggled with meeting their target of $40,000, particularly because of a recent move. After living in a small town for two years, the couple are currently in the process of moving to a new town of about the same size. While their friends and family have been very encouraging, Kate worries that their short periods of time in such small communities may make it difficult to raise the funds. “I feel like you can only ask people so much for help without beginning to sounds greedy or desperate. That’s the fine line that we are trying to walk with this campaign.”
Abby and Kate are just two of the thousands of campaigns seeking funding. In 2014 alone, GoFundMe raised $147 million for medical campaigns. And while some question whether the growing medical crowdfunding industry is a flawed fix for an even more significantly flawed health care system, those who rely on these campaigns to get them the care they need don’t have time to wait around for a better solution. Both Abby and Kate recommend using crowdfunding in times of need, because as Kate says, “People WANT to help.” With no long-term fix for the cost of care on the horizon, that help is more crucial now than ever before.
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