People in states with higher medical debt and lower insurance coverage rates are more likely to try to raise money for health care through crowdfunding, but less likely to be successful, the research found.
This so-called safety net is not really one, say the researchers.
“We tend to think that crowdfunding can help anyone in difficult times, but this data really indicates that where people need the most help paying for health care, crowdfunding provides the less help,” says Nora Kenworthy, associate professor of nursing. and health studies at the University of Washington, Bothell.
“Relying on market-based solutions only worsens already significant health inequalities.”
For study in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers collected data from more than 437,000 GoFundMe campaigns over a five-year period and analyzed county- and state-level crowdfunding usage and results. Using census data and other information, Kenworthy and co-author Mark Igra, a graduate student in sociology, estimated the number of campaigns launched, and the amount of money they raised, in areas with higher or lower income, with medical debt and health insurance coverage. .
The researchers explored different angles of crowdfunding: who uses it, where they live and how successful their campaigns are. Last year, Igra and Kenworthy focused on crowdfunding during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic and found that campaigns were more successful in wealthier, more educated communities, a trend they attributed not only to the financial resources available in these communities, but also to potentially broader and richer social networks. Igra and Kenworthy also found that 90% of campaigns, regardless of location, failed to achieve their goals.
For this study, the researchers wanted to examine medical crowdfunding and the extent to which it helps people who are struggling to pay for health care in the United States. On GoFundMe, which has the majority of the crowdfunding market in the United States, more than a third of the campaigns are related to health care. GoFundMe reports that more than 250,000 campaigns to fund medical needs are launched each year, raising more than $650 million. The study gathered one of the largest publicly available datasets of GoFundMe campaigns over the past few years, from 2016 to 2020, and demonstrated that more campaigns were launched in low-income and underprivileged communities. -insured, but campaigns in more affluent communities with higher rates of insurance coverage bring in significantly more money. Among other discoveries:
- Over that five-year span, GoFundMe’s 437,596 campaigns in the medicine, disease, and cure category raised more than $2 billion, with the median campaign earning just under $2,000.
- During this period, 16% of campaigns did not generate anything, while less than 12% reached their goal.
- The median number of donations and returns has been declining over time, reaching its lowest level in 2020.
- In 2020, just under 18% of campaigns were launched in areas with the highest household incomes (between $73,000 and $130,000), but accounted for more than a quarter of total money collection.
- That same year, 20% of campaigns were launched in the lowest revenue bracket ($19,000 to $47,000), representing 12% of total revenue. This represents less than half of the income of the high income bracket.
Likewise, there were more campaigns in states with higher percentages of people with medical debt and no insurance. These campaigns raised less money than campaigns in other states. Mississippi, for example, has the highest percentage of the population with medical debt and is among the highest in percentage uninsured, but crowdfunding campaigns there have raised the least money of the 50 states.
Looking at data from 2020, the latest full year available, the researchers say one statistic stands out: 33.8% of campaigns went unfunded. The percentage varied so much from that of previous years, when the share ranged from 0 to 4%, that researchers believe the pandemic alone was not the cause. On the contrary, it seems that the most successful campaigns stay on the website longer, and data from previous years may therefore overrepresent successful campaigns. Additionally, unfunded campaigns appear to be removed from the site, either by the campaign creators or the website moderators, after one year, according to the researchers.
“Because the campaigns people see on social media are almost always the small, widely shared subset, audiences may feel like crowdfunding has a greater chance of succeeding than it actually does” , says Igra.
Greater transparency from all crowdfunding companies would allow for more research and policy-making that could help address the very needs that crowdfunding claims to address, the researchers say. As thousands of people turn to crowdfunding to pay their medical bills, the study’s findings point to a more equitable and comprehensive solution: better health insurance coverage and social assistance programs.
“Relying on market-based solutions only worsens already significant health inequalities. This research underscores the need for broader safety net programs that provide assistance to all who need it,” Kenworthy said.
Funding for the research came from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, through the Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology at UW.
Source: University of Washington