If the worst should ever happen to your health, there’s a good chance that you’ll turn to a crowdfunding website, such as GoFundMe or JustGiving, to fill the gap left by our night-terror-inducing healthcare system. The reason for this is simple: There are no insurance brokers or complicated paperwork, just a group of people desperate to throw their money at good causes for the sheer humanity of it all. That’s not hyperbole, by the way. In little under a decade, crowdfunding campaigns for medical expenses have brought in over $1 billion in donations.
When such campaigns go viral, the media often reports them as heartwarming stories of human altruism, proof that although the world might appear to be losing its mind, there are still helpers out there. That’s … a good angle.
It certainly makes us feel better about the fact that these sites are taking a cut of everyone’s donations. There’s a darker narrative, however, which both the media and us are ignoring: the fact that these sites are failing, albeit unintentionally, the vast majority of their users.
These might seem like wildly different things at face value, but launching a crowdfunding campaign is exactly like launching a new business. It’s not enough to have a donations page for your condition; you need to know how to sell yourself to potential donors (something your mom was pretty good at, or so we’ve heard). When it comes to crowdfunding, that involves providing constant updates, writing good copy, producing and editing video, promoting your campaign everywhere, and a whole other bunch of skills and connections. This isn’t something we dreamt up, by the way. It comes courtesy of Indiegogo, and holy shit, it’s so far beyond the abilities of the average healthy and able-bodied person, never mind someone with a long-term, painful, time-and-energy-consuming medical problem. It isn’t even funny.
If you’re lacking in marketing ability, your best hope is to accidentally go viral by, say, being so terribly ill that not donating is, strictly speaking, a crime against humanity. And that’s great if you’re suffering from a “faultless” problem like cancer — you know, something that people can see and know isn’t your fault, unlike mental health issues or addiction problems. The internet is good and altruistic and shit, but it’s still judgmental.
If you’re fortunate enough to make your goal, the problems don’t end there. Although crowdfunded money can help fight off CLL, TB, and LD, it can also cause a case of the horrific condition known as “IRS.” Often presenting in the form of an unwelcome audit, there are numerous cases of people receiving money from campaigns, only to have more stress piled on afterward when the IRS starts asking for its cut.
If you’re able to prove where the donations went, it’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll have to pay what they’re asking. It’s just a massive pain in the ass on top of the other bitingly real pains you’re feeling elsewhere.
If you think the worst thing that can result from receiving mad internet stacks is some mild-to-major inconvenience, think again. If you’re receiving any form of state assistance when you collect your donations, well, you won’t be receiving it for much longer, as these unfortunate welfare recipients found, to their horror. It isn’t like taxes, however, where a couple of forms to declare the donations is enough. If you’re receiving state benefits, you’re categorically not allowed to receive crowdfunded money.
So how do we solve these problems? Well, we can’t. These aren’t problems that can be fixed with an algorithm update. They’re facts of human psychology, with some legislative fuckiness for good measure. You’re more likely to give money to a campaign with updates, because you can see the effect you’re having (and maybe get some sweet, sweet praise), and the vast majority of us will always choose to give money to someone we perceive as an “innocent” victim over someone with a condition that we perceive to have been self-inflicted (e.g. addiction). If you’re one of those people who can look past facts like these and give selflessly without reward or judgment, that’s great. But you’re likely in the minority, and the minority a successful crowdfunding campaign does not make.
Our only solution to these problems, therefore, is to focus on fixing our healthcare system, so that we don’t need to beg for medicine money on the internet like something you’d ordinarily expect to find mentioned as a world-building detail in the background of a dystopian epic. That’s what the media should be focusing its energies on. By continuing to focus on the narrative that crowdfunding is a great way to raise money if you’re sick, news outlets are betraying the overwhelming number of people for whom it does not and can never work, as well as everyone else, since they’re investing time and attention on rare acts of goodwill instead of the overwhelming problems with our healthcare system.
We’re not being heartless. These are great headlines to see, especially considering the crazy times we’re living in right now. It’s so, so easy to imagine that the world is a cold, hyper-partisan husk of dirt, and these headlines are proof against that argument. This is not something, however, that we as ordinary people should be celebrating. When the chips are down, the media is capable of doing great things, and they should be trying their damnedest to effect real change when it comes to the healthcare debate that’s raging all the goddamn time, not fawning over viral charity drives and creating the illusion that this is doable for everyone who needs help.
For every headline that sells the dream about the money that’ll allow you to live your life (or even keep on living) being a simple case of passing the sign-up page …
… there are nine others like this, which prove that dream is nothing but, well, a dream.
We can’t help but stress this enough, but we love the fact that there’s an entire industry working to keep people alive — or at least, alive and without an infarction-inducing medical bill to show for it. That’s the dream of an interconnected world. But we also need to face up to the fact that whenever you see a headline espousing the benefits of crowdfunding, it’s selling a lie to nine in every ten people who take them up on that offer. The truth might not be heartwarming, but it sure as hell beats how heartbreaking that fact is.
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