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Why do 45 million Americans feel compelled to donate to medical crowdfunding sites?

April 5, 2021

Topics: Quote of the Day

About 1 in 5 American adults reported donating to a crowdfunding campaign to help raise money for a medical bill or treatment over the last year.

NORC at the University of Chicago, April 1, 2021

Eighteen percent of adults in America report having donated to a crowdfunding campaign to pay for medical bills or treatment at some point over the last year. This figure has held steady from surveys over the past year despite the increase in financial hardship, including record levels of unemployment due to the ongoing pandemic. The data come from the latest NORC Spotlight on Health survey powered by AmeriSpeak®.

Nearly 40 percent of Americans who donated to crowdfunding campaigns were from households with incomes of less than $60,000 per year. In 2019, the median household income in the United States was $68,703. Of the Americans who made a donation to a campaign, 36 percent were not working (unemployed or retired) and 6 percent did not have health insurance themselves at the time of the survey.

Crowdfunding is the process by which individuals raise funds from a large number of people through websites such as GoFundMe. The new survey found the numbers of Americans starting such campaigns holding steady relative to 2020. An estimated 6 million Americans started a campaign for themselves or someone in their household, and nearly 9 million Americans started a campaign for someone else. In addition, approximately 16 million Americans made donations to help strangers, a similar number to previous surveys.

Forty-five million Americans reported an estimated 61 million individual donations to campaigns for different diseases and conditions. Twenty-eight percent of Americans who made contributions to crowdfunding campaigns reported having donated to more than one campaign for different diseases or conditions. These new data indicate that, of the 61 million donations to medical campaigns, over half were related either to campaigns for cancer (17 million) or campaigns for accidental injuries (16 million). Other popular donation categories included heart disease (9 million) and mental illness (5 million). There were also an estimated 2 million donations specifically for COVID-19.

“Even as many Americans have struggled over the past year with unemployment and a lack of affordable health insurance, individuals are still donating to crowdfunding sites to help others pay for their medical bills and treatments,” said Mollie Hertel, AM, MPP, senior research scientist at NORC.

“People reported that the vast majority of donations were going to campaigns raising money for cancer treatments and accidental injuries. This information highlights again where gaps in insurance coverage—such as high out-of-pocket costs—may exist and the challenges that Americans with serious illnesses continue to face,” added Susan Cahn, DrPH, also a senior research scientist at NORC and co-author of the study.

Nearly 60 percent of adults in America believe that the government should bear a great deal or a lot of responsibility for providing health care to people who need free or lower-cost medical care. Forty-four percent of Americans think hospitals and clinics bear a great deal or a lot of responsibility when care is unaffordable and 35 percent believe doctors should bear this level of responsibility.


NORC AmeriSpeak Omnibus Survey:


By Don McCanne, M.D.

Imagine. Forty-five million Americans felt compelled to make charitable cash donations to individuals with ongoing medical needs. What does that say about our health care financing system in America? Well, there are a few important conclusions we can draw from this survey.

  • Medical debt is common and severe enough to cause people to initiate charitable campaigns to help pay the bills.
  • People do not have enough faith in our current health care financing system to believe that it is adequate to cover medical expenses for many individuals with large medical bills (cancer, major accidents, etc.).
  • Ninety-one percent of individuals surveyed were currently insured which tends to indicate a lack of faith in the adequacy of our fragmented, public and private insurance-based system of health care financing. People realize that it is not working well.
  • The majority of adults in America believe that “the government should bear a great deal or a lot of responsibility for providing health care to people who need free or lower-cost medical care.”

The perception of excess medical debt has become quite prevalent, yet as a source of financing health care, crowdfunding hardly makes a dent in our national health expenditures. How can we delay any further the enactment and implementation of single payer improved Medicare for All? President Biden, this question is especially directed at you. Your temporary program to donate our tax funds to private insurance companies to cover high deductibles and other cost sharing takes care of the private insurers and their investors but leaves us taxpayers footing the bill.

Stay informed! Visit www.pnhp.org/qotd to sign up for daily email updates.

About the Commentator, Don McCanne

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Don McCanne is a retired family practitioner who dedicated the 2nd phase of his career to speaking and writing extensively on single payer and related issues. He served as Physicians for a National Health Program president in 2002 and 2003, then as Senior Health Policy Fellow. For two decades, Don wrote "Quote of the Day", a daily health policy update which inspired HJM.

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