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GoFundMe CEO: ‘Gigantic Gaps’ In Health System Showing Up In Crowdfunding

What, if anything, should be done about high health care costs in the U.S.?

by Kaiser Health News | Updated on 1.16.19

Scrolling through the GoFundMe website reveals seemingly an endless number of people who need help or community support. A common theme: the cost of health care.

It didn’t start out this way. Back in 2010, when the crowdfunding website began, it suggested fundraisers for “ideas and dreams,” “wedding donations and honeymoon registry” or “special occasions.” A spokeswoman said the bulk of collection efforts from the first year were “related to charities and foundations.” A category for medical needs existed, but it was farther down the list.

In the nine years since, campaigns to pay for health care have reaped the most cash. Of the $5 billion the company says it has raised, about a third has been for medical expenses from more than 250,000 medical campaigns conducted annually.

Take, for instance, the 25-year-old California woman who had a stroke and “needs financial support for rehabilitation, home nursing, medical equipment and uncovered medical expenses.” Or the Tennessee couple who want to get pregnant, but whose insurance doesn’t cover the $20,000 worth of “medications, surgeries, scans, lab monitoring, and appointments [that] will need to be paid for upfront and out-of-pocket” for in vitro fertilization.

The prominence of the medical category is the symptom of a broken system, according to CEO Rob Solomon, 51, who has a long tech résumé as an executive at places like Groupon and Yahoo. He said he never realized how hard it was for some people to pay their bills: “I needed to understand the gigantic gaps in the system.”

This year, Time Magazine named Solomon one of the 50 most influential people in health care.

“We didn’t build the platform to focus on medical expenses,” Solomon said. But it turned out, he said, to be one of those “categories of need” with which many people struggle.

Solomon talked to Kaiser Health News’ Rachel Bluth about his company’s role in financing health care and what it says about the system when so many people rely on the kindness of strangers to get treatment. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: KHN and other news outlets have reported that hospitals often advise patients to crowdfund their transplants. It’s become almost institutionalized to use GoFundMe. How do you feel about that?

It saddens me that this is a reality. Every single day on GoFundMe we see the huge challenges people face. Their stories are heartbreaking.

Some progress has been made here and there with the Affordable Care Act, and it’s under fire, but there’s ever-widening gaps in coverage for treatment, for prescriptions, for everything related to health care costs. Even patients who have insurance and supposedly decent insurance [come up short]. We’ve become an indispensable institution, indispensable technology and indispensable platform for anyone who finds themselves needing help because there just isn’t adequate coverage or assistance.

I would love nothing more than for “medical” to not be a category on GoFundMe. The reality is, though, that access to health care is connected to the ability to pay for it. If you can’t do that, people die. People suffer. We feel good that our platform is there when people need it.

Q: Did anyone expect medical funding would become such a big part of GoFundMe?

I don’t think anyone anticipated it. What we realized early on is that medical need is a gigantic category.

A lot of insurance doesn’t cover clinical trials and research and things like that, where people need access to leading-edge potential treatments. We strive to fill these gaps until the institutions that are supposed to handle this handle it properly. There has to be a renaissance, a dramatic change in public policy, in how the government focuses on this and how the health care companies solve this.

This is very interesting. In the places like the United Kingdom, Canada and other European countries that have some form of universal or government-sponsored health coverage, medical [costs] are still the largest category. So it’s not just medical bills for treatment. There’s travel and accommodations for families who have to support people when they fall ill.

Q: What have you learned that you didn’t know before?

I guess what I realized [when I came] to this job is that I had no notion of how severe the problem is. You read about the debate about single-payer health care and all the issues, the partisan politics. What I really learned is the health care system in the United States is really broken. Way too many people fall through the cracks.

The government is supposed to be there and sometimes they are. The health care companies are supposed to be there and sometimes they are. But for literally millions of people they’re not. The only thing you can really do is rely on the kindness of friends and family and community. That’s where GoFundMe comes in.

I was not ready for that at all when I started at the company. When you live and breathe it every day and you see the need that exists, when you realize there are many people with rare diseases but they aren’t diseases a drug company can make money from, they’re just left with nothing.

Q: But what does this say about the system?

The system is terrible. It needs to be rethought and retooled. Politicians are failing us. Health care companies are failing us. Those are realities. I don’t want to mince words here. We are facing a huge potential tragedy. We provide relief for a lot of people. But there are people who are not getting relief from us or from the institutions that are supposed to be there. We shouldn’t be the solution to a complex set of systemic problems. They should be solved by the government working properly, and by health care companies working with their constituents. We firmly believe that access to comprehensive health care is a right and things have to be fixed at the local, state and federal levels of government to make this a reality.

Q: Do you ever worry that medical fundraising on your site is taking away from other causes or other things that need to be funded?

We have billions being raised on our platform on an annual basis. Everything from medical, memorial and emergency, to people funding Little League teams and community projects.

Another thing that’s happened in the last few years is we’ve really become the “take action button.” Whenever there’s a news cycle on something where people want to help, they create GoFundMe campaigns. This government shutdown, for example: We have over a thousand campaigns right now for people who have been affected by it — they’re raising money for people to pay rent, mortgages, car payments while the government isn’t.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Kaiser Health News

Written by Kaiser Health News

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(18)
  • Donna
    01/16/2019
    ···

    Healthcare needs to be affordable for all. There is absolutely no reason other than profit for drug companies to raise prices on life saving drugs by more than 5 percent annually. Drugs like insulin that have been around for many years do not suddenly become more expensive to make. Some drugs have gone up 800 percent and more. This is the fleecing of Americans by drug companies. Other countries pay little for the same drugs. Why? Because they have universal healthcare and we do not. People can not afford their drugs and are dying every day. As far as I am concerned drug companies are murdering our citizens for profit.

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  • Cindy
    01/16/2019
    ···

    Wasn’t that way in 2010.... well we didn’t have Obamacare then either, now we have it and more people need help with coat of healthcare, Obamacare isn’t working but it’s more about saving Obama’s legacy than doing what works. And Single payer and Medicare for all is NOT the answer, those will just decrease the quality of healthcare, long waits and lines and the government telling you how you will get healthcare.

    Like (8)
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  • Ken
    01/16/2019
    ···

    How short our memories are. Before the ACA premiums going out of sight. Every year premiums went up and coverage went down. We need a complete overhaul in healthcare delivery system. Get for profit insurance out. That is the problem. Easy fix.

    Like (7)
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  • Tooluser1
    01/16/2019
    ···

    Repeal Obamacare! Literally NO ONE can afford the "Affordable Care Act". But then the POINT of this abomination was always to implode our healthcare system and force "Single payer" on all of us, despite its proven track record of death and care rationing. After all, who would DARE resist the Democrats if they control your healthcare?

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  • TuckerWantsLiberty
    01/16/2019
    ···

    Good. Gofundme is preferable to involuntary methods. This is 100% the right way to fill the gaps. How are you going to argue that involuntarily forcing people to participate, reducing the unwilling to mere objects for your schemes, is more moral than acknowledging and respecting the self-ownership and individual autonomy inherent in every person, whether or not you like how they use it?

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  • Bmarkis
    01/16/2019
    ···

    We need a medicare for all system in the U.S. to ensure all our citizens have access to comprehensive healthcare. The private healthcare system will only continue to have inequities and create a "have and have-not" system with a basic human need; we need universal healthcare and we need to get corporations out of politics.

    Like (4)
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  • Joey
    01/16/2019
    ···

    Did you know that people are actually using Go Fund Me on Facebook to get life saving health care. When a congressman goes to Canada to get it free. A republican of course. Not all of us can go to Canada. Are you proud of this? You guys did it. Fix it. Medicare for all. How about you give up your insurance? Also, when will the republicans open the government? This is ridiculous. Even for Trump. Why are you afraid of him. Your people are suffering. Especially you Tom Cotton. Trump is obviously your buddy. You will loose the next election be cause of it. Good riddance.

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  • Azrael
    01/16/2019
    ···

    Medicare for all Single payer Health care as a right

    Like (3)
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  • Leon
    01/16/2019
    ···

    Defund ACA.

    Like (2)
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  • Carrie
    01/16/2019
    ···

    We need a single payer system period. Too many people have their hands in the pot. I know that people have to make a living, but if we actually get medical treatment through a single payer system, that at least reduces our personal expenses.

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  • Chris
    01/16/2019
    ···

    MEDICARE FOR ALL!

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  • Thelma
    01/16/2019
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    Medicare for all please, ASAP.

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  • eliyak
    01/16/2019
    ···

    We need more healthcare crowdfunding sites, as well as more transparency in costs and less beureacratic overhead. Insurance should be for unforseen emergencies only.

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  • John
    01/16/2019
    ···

    Universal single payer healthcare, cradle to grave. Wow, that was hard!

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  • S
    01/19/2019
    ···

    Republicans need to pull their heads out of trump's butt and look around. I don't know how you make them care about anything except tump, big money, and themselves though.

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  • Brian
    01/16/2019
    ···

    That’s because the ACA made things infinitely more expensive and it will get more expensive with Medicare for all schemes.

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