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GoFundMe CEO: ‘Gigantic gaps’ in health system showing up in crowdfunding


 

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 9 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 Mr. Solomon one of the 50 most influential people in health care.

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

Mr. 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.

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