Crowdfunding Sites Help Boulder County Residents Raise Money To Pay For Treatments

By John Bear
Daily Camera, Boulder, Colo.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Crowdfunding site, “YouCaring” says “Medical” is its fastest-growing category, with the total number of medical fundraisers growing three times as fast in 2017 as it did in 2016.

Daily Camera, Boulder, Colo.

Cheryl Stegman was diagnosed with cancer less than a year ago, but it’s changed her in more ways that one.

“Before I got cancer, my hair was blonde,” Stegman said recently in her Niwot home. “This has really changed me. It’s been a transformation.”

Stegman, 60, was diagnosed in April with breast cancer, which has spread to her bones, liver, lung, lymph nodes, spine and hip. She underwent chemotherapy treatment and has been told her cancer is “not curable but treatable.”

“Her cancer is a chronic disease,” Stegman’s friend, Deb Kelner, said. “We are trying to have it respond to treatment.”

Her health insurance, once she reached the $2,000 deductible, covered most of the chemotherapy, but she has been receiving extra treatment at the Helios clinic in Boulder and is participating in clinical trials at the Perseus clinic in the Grand Cayman Islands. It cost Stegman $25,000 to sign up for the trials, which also requires her to travel to the islands several times on her own dime.

None of this extra treatment is covered by insurance, and Stegman has gone to crowdfunding to help pay for her treatment. Stegman has raised more than $7,300 on a GoFundMe account that Kelner set up for her earlier this year.

‘Medical is also our fastest-growing category’
A perfunctory search of crowdfunding sites such as GoFundMe and YouCaring will reveal a multitude of campaigns for everything from cancer treatment and medical expenses for pets to requests for car payments and funeral expenses.

GoFundMe didn’t respond to numerous requests for comment, but YouCaring spokesman Austin Kapur said in an email that no single category makes up the majority of donations on YouCaring. Medical campaigns, he said, draw the largest volume of donations and the most individual fundraisers.

“Medical is also our fastest-growing category, with the total number of medical fundraisers growing three times as fast in 2017 as it did in 2016,” Kapur said.

A “state of compassion report” provided by YouCaring states that medical crowdfunding has increased on the website about 67 percent per year. Bloomberg News reported that a study of GoFundMe revealed that of $2 billion raised during the study period, nearly half of it came from medical campaigns.

‘I’m not going to crowdfund my health insurance’
A study by the Centers for Disease Control indicates that in 2012, more than one in four families struggled with medical costs. Low-income families struggled with medical costs at a higher rate than the rest of the population.
Boulder-based entrepreneur Alex Raymond said he and his wife pay for their own insurance, but he has been dismayed at sharp spike in cost over the past several years.

“It was less than $500 a month a couple of years ago,” Raymond said. “Last year, it went up to $520.”

He said that he has been expecting his premiums to increase because of President Donald Trump’s decision to end health care subsidies, so it came as no surprise when they shot up to $618 a month in fall. However, he has since received word from his health insurance provider that his new premium — because of the Trump administration policy change — will jump to nearly $700 per month.

“Right now, we have been lucky we haven’t had any health issues,” he said. “It doesn’t last forever. … I’m not going to crowdfund my health insurance. But I’m not amused.”

University of Colorado Health spokesman Dan Weaver said that potential hospital bills are complex and vary from person to person. He added that for some patients that he has spoken to about crowdfunding campaigns — particularly those with insurance — the fundraisers can be used to help with long-term recovery and financial losses from missed work.

“I don’t think we regularly discuss crowdfunding campaigns with patients,” Weaver said. “We do have financial counselors who can meet with patients, help them determine what their bills might be, help identify possible financial assistance and work out payment plans as needed.”

Veni Noya was born with spina bifida and immigrated to the United States when he was 11 years old, according to his GoFundMe account, because his family could not find proper care in Vera Cruz, Mexico.

Noya, now 25, gets around in a wheelchair and is raising money on the crowdfunding site to pay for surgery he needs to save his right leg, which has an open wound that has become seriously infected.

“They are thinking about amputating my leg,” Noya said. “A lot of people don’t want that. They don’t want to see me with one leg. We are trying to save this leg.”

Noya came to the United States illegally as a child and, up until the Trump administration rescinded it earlier this year, had stayed via the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Because of his immigration status — he wants to apply for citizenship — he is not eligible for Medicaid and cannot enroll in the health insurance exchange created by the Affordable Care Act. He works at the YMCA in Longmont but does not have health insurance through work.

He and his friends and family are looking for other ways to raise money outside of crowdfunding.

“We are trying to find out where we can do a dinner event,” he said. “We are looking at the bowling alley or a place like that.”

‘It’s very humbling’
Stegman said that crowdfunding for her medical costs was a difficult decision, because she has been financially independent since she was about 16 years old and the breadwinner for most of her adult life.

Aside from the $7,300 raised on GoFundMe, Stegman said that friends and family who didn’t want to pay the fee the crowdfunding site collects have given her another $10,000. She will be tested in February to see if the treatment has worked. The fee costs 2.9 percent for a personal account, plus 30 cents per each donation, according to the site.

“It’s very humbling,” she said. “I’m so full of gratitude for all the support I’ve been given. It’s really quite touching.”

She said that she has given to crowdfunding campaigns in the past and liked the feeling of helping out, so she hopes that people contributing to her campaign are having the same reaction.

“The thing about giving — it feels good,” she said. “I hope people feel good about this and don’t feel burdened.”

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