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article imageOp-Ed: Crowdfunding puts medical care within reach for needy patients

By Lori Weaver     Aug 20, 2013 in Business
Around the globe, the Internet is bringing together those in need of medical care with those wanting to make a difference by footing the bill. The result? For many, it's a new lease on life.
Thanks to the Internet, crowdfunding has grown in popularity as an easy means for individuals from all walks of life and all perspectives to pool their money in a collective effort, and make a difference or support an effort.
Now, some are using that same model to help defray medical costs as crowdfunding makes its way to a sector where need is great and the payoff priceless. The result is a way for generous and caring givers to help collectively fund much-needed medical care and procedures for those unable to afford treatment themselves. For a problem like out-of-reach health-care costs, it offers a new alternative where few have existed.
Crowdfunding , which is sometimes also referred to as crowd-sourced funding or by other similar terms, refers to any collective effort where people network over the Internet to support an initiative or meet the needs of others. The recipient can either be individuals or an organization. Most commonly, crowd funding has been used for everything from disaster relief to support of local artists to funding of start-up companies.
Although some medical crowdfunding opportunities focus exclusively on medical assistance to individuals in remote corners of the globe, there are others that take a more domestic perspective, particularly in the U.S. where consumers are more than happy to have a new option for mounting medical expenses.
Health-care Costs in the U.S.
With the U.S. as the undisputed global leader in terms of medical spending, the astronomical rise of health-care costs has been widely covered and well-documented. Whether directly from their pockets or via health-care insurance policies, Americans pay more for almost every interaction with the medical system than they would in any other country. Yet, despite this regrettable ranking, studies show America does not lead the rest of the world when it comes to quality of care.
From 1999 to 2009, health-care spending grew by about 5.9 percent on average each year. While that growth seems to have slowed to around 3 percent the last couple of years, health-care spend remains of major concern for most. Consider that in the U.S.:
1. Three out of five bankruptcies are due to unpaid medical bills.
2. The average cost of an MRI is $1,121, while in New Zealand, the same procedure is $544 and in the United Kingdom, only $335 on average.
3. The average hospital stay cost per day is $4,287. This compares to averages of $853 in France and $665 in South Africa.
In addition to the cost of medical procedures and hospital stays, there is the formidable ongoing cost of care for those with chronic conditions. Lifetime care for someone with cerebral palsy, for example, can exceed $1 million. The cost of caring for someone with muscular dystrophy is $126,000 per affected person per year. The cost of caring for a person with a spinal cord injury can range from about $334,000 to over $1 million.
Options for Patients
It is no wonder medical crowdfunding has caught on, both in the U.S. and for countries around the globe where remote villages and lack of income make it difficult, if not impossible, to receive needed medical attention.
Even in the U.S. where accessibility is much less an issue, there have been few options in the past for those unable to afford medical care but not eligible for government assistance, which is in large part why bankruptcies due to medical bills have become so rampant.
Options traditionally used for reducing health-care costs have included shopping around at different hospitals and clinics to research lowest prices, and negotiating with hospital and clinic billing departments to reduce costs and set up monthly payment plans. Also, those suffering birth injuries or other medical conditions due to negligence on the part of health-care providers may seek legal recourse if they are provided with the necessary resources to do so. But none of these approaches go directly to the issue of funding necessary medical care the way that crowd funding is designed to do.
How it Works
While the basic model is the same, different platforms have different approaches to medical crowdfunding.
For example, Watsi is a crowd funding platform for medical expenses that is primarily concentrated on providing international assistance. The site accepts donations as small as $5 and boasts that 100 percent of donations go to the medical care recipients, with the site itself sponsored by outside corporate sponsors and organizations apart from its funding functions. Visitors to the site can browse profiles of those in need and make a decision on funding. They are then provided periodic updates as the funding for the individual makes progress toward the total amount needed, or funding goal. The site uses "medical partners" to vet potential patients before making a final decision of profiles showcased.
Taking a somewhat different approach, the medical crowdfunding website GiveFoward is Chicago-based and caters to a domestic audience. Visitors in need simply fill out the online fundraiser form. The site itself is funded with a 7 percent fee from funds raised. In addition to providing a forum for individuals to launch medical fundraisers, as well as veterinary care fundraisers, the site includes a number of resources on raising funds and dealing with medical expenses. Launched in 2008, the site has raised $57,987,052 to date, according to its website.
In both cases above, as with most other medical crowdfunding sites, profiles for those in need of funds will include some sort of scale to show progress to date. The sites also include success stories for those completing their fund-raising efforts.
Beyond Bills
The medical community is taking advantage of crowd funding in other ways as well, primarily for the purpose of funding inventors of medical devices and other medical equipment who are not associated with large medical development companies nor do they have deep pockets themselves. Crowd funding groups catering to these inventors are targeting funding totals of $100,000 or less. Traditionally, inventors approaching venture capitalists would need project funding beginning at the $5 million mark.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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