Mary Lou Retton Crowdfunded Her Medical Debt, Like Many Thousands of Others | ET REALITY

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When Mary Lou Retton, the decorated Olympic gymnast, racked up medical debt due to a long hospital stay, her family did what countless Americans have done before them: They turned to crowdfunding to cover the bills.

On Tuesday, Retton’s daughter started a social media fundraising campaign for her mother, who she said was hospitalized with a rare pneumonia.

“We ask that if you can help in any way, that you 1) PRAY! and 2) if you could help us with the finances for the hospital bill,” McKenna Kelley, Ms. Retton’s daughter, wrote in a post on Spotfund, a crowdfunding platform similar to GoFundMe.

The public responded quickly, and thousands of people donated $350,000 in less than two days, breaking the goal of $50,000.

The United States has the The highest healthcare prices in the world.. Every year, a quarter of a million Americans start crowdfunding Campaigns to pay medical bills. The Spotfund post for Ms. Retton, 55, did not share many details about her costs, but noted that she did not have health insurance. (When another of Retton’s daughters, Shayla Kelley Schrepfer, received a text message, she did not respond to a question about why her mother didn’t have insurance.)

Unlike Mrs. Retton, most patients don’t meet their fundraising goals. About 16 percent of the time, studies show, crowdfunding campaigns don’t generate any donations.

About half of Americans report difficulty paying their medical bills, according to a 2022 Kaiser Family Foundation survey. survey. The problem tends to be particularly sharp among the 27.5 million Americans who do not have health insurance.

Most uninsured Americans have low incomes, and about two-thirds say they can’t afford to buy coverage. Some earn a little too much from Obamacare subsidies or say that even with financial aid, premiums are still too expensive.

Last year, Nora Kenworthy, an associate professor at the University of Washington Bothell, published the largest study to date on medical crowdfunding, which analyzed nearly half a million GoFundMe campaigns. Her work showed that a typical fundraiser generates about $1,970, well below the $5,000 to $10,000 that patients typically seek. The most successful campaign in her dataset raised $2.4 million, but numbers that high were rare. Less than 12 percent of campaigns met their goals.

“What’s hidden in viral campaigns like this is that the vast majority of crowdfunding efforts generate much smaller amounts of money,” Dr. Kenworthy said. “As competition in this market expands, success rates decrease.”

GoFundMe offers advice on how to make campaigns successful, suggesting that campaigns include “high-quality images” of the person in need and share “the financial, physical and emotional problems” that patients are experiencing.

However, a growing body of research suggests that much of the success of a crowdfunding campaign comes down to factors outside the patient’s control, including race and income, and that crowdfunding often directs resources to those least they need them.

TO study 2022 of fundraising events for cancer patients found that those led by patients in poor neighborhoods tended to raise less money, leading the authors to conclude that “online crowdfunding may exacerbate socioeconomic disparities in cancer care.” “.

Poorer patients may have difficulty generating donations because of prejudices against them as lazy or undeserving of help, said Jeremy Snyder, a professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University in Canada and author of a book on the ethics of crowdfunding.

And wealthier patients are often boosted by their social networks. “If you have a lot of wealthy friends or live in a wealthy community, there are a lot more people who can potentially donate,” Dr. Snyder said.

There are also racial and gender disparities in crowdfunding. Dr. Kenworthy and her colleagues analyzed what makes GoFundMe successful by looking at the 827 top performing campaigns. He found that young white people facing unexpected medical crises tend to attract the most support, while black women were underrepresented among successful campaigns.

Michael Levenson contributed with reports.

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