GoFundMe Helps Those Who Need it ‘the Least,’ Researchers Conclude

We have all seen the campaigns, on Facebook and other places, and many have likely participated, but do GoFundMe campaigns actually work when it comes to covering the costs of medical debt? A report published in the American Journal of Public Health analyzed more than 437,000 campaigns during a five-year period to reach the conclusion that medical crowdfunding “is best positioned to help in populations that need it the least.”

I’ve written in the past about how individuals have used GoFundMe as a means of covering medical debts, to varying degrees of success. It turns out that the problem with crowdfunding campaigns is that they tend to circulate within the socioeconomic networks of those who are trying to raise the money. People who live and work in low-income areas are trying to raise money from their friends and contacts — many of whom live in the same situations.

Take Mississippi, for example. The state has the highest percentage of individuals with medical debt and is one of the states with the highest percentage of uninsured residents, yet crowdfunding campaigns in the state raised the least money of any state in the country. Meanwhile, Vermont, which has one of the lowest rates of uninsured residents, raised the most money.

While some campaigns go viral and expand beyond an individual’s network of friends — and the media reports on how much is raised — it gives a false impression that crowdfunding is a viable solution for those looking to pay their medical debts, one of the report’s authors said. Sixteen percent of campaigns started on GoFundMe raised no money at all, and only 12% actually met their goal, according to the report.

“We tend to think of crowdfunding as something that can help out anyone in hard times, but this data really indicates that where people need the most help paying for health care, crowdfunding provides the least help,” said Nora Kenworthy, associate professor of nursing and health studies at UW Bothell, one of the researchers who published the report.

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