More cancer patients leaning on crowdfunding to pay medical bills, study finds

Cancer patients are increasingly using crowdsourcing websites to pay for medical travel, alternative treatments — and even funeral expenses, according to a new University of California-San Francisco study.

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, examined cancer patients' use of GoFundMe cancer campaigns to pay for medical care.

For the study, researchers reviewed  20 most prevalent cancers in the U.S., including breast cancer, leukemia, lung, brain, colon and pancreatic cancer. They then used software to get information on 37,344 GoFundMe cancer campaigns last October. Subsequently, they examined 1,035 campaigns, assessing personal and financial self-reported patient information.

Based on the random sample of 1,035 from the larger group, researchers found that:

  • On average, cancer patients set a fundraising goal of $10,000 and raised about 25 percent of the money.
  • The average donation obtained by cancer campaigns was $2,125.
  • Cancer campaigns were most often to pay medical bills (41 percent), medical travel expenses (25.3 percent) and nonmedical bills for things like childcare and funeral expenses (23.2 percent).
  • Nearly 2 percent of cancer campaigns mentioned alternative treatments.
  • On average, campaigns for underinsured cancer patients asked for $10,000 more than campaigns that did not mention insurance.
  • Campaigns for underinsured cancer patients accounted for 26.2 percent of studied campaigns.
  • About 30 percent online campaign postings were done by a third party.

"People face multiple competing financial needs due to illness," one of the study's authors, Andrew J. Cohen, MD, a former clinical instructor at the UCSF urology department, concluded. "For example, medical travel costs were a major problem for some people. It’s possible that the regionalization of oncologic care is improving cancer outcomes, but simultaneously it increases the financial burden on patients.

"Our results suggest that the financial burden of healthcare requires more attention and advocacy. Furthermore, the posting of medical information by patients and third parties on crowdfunding sites raises serious ethical, privacy and fraud concerns," Dr. Cohen said.


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