This post is probably going to ruffle a few feathers, but I’ve noticed a trend emerging over recent years that I find really disappointing. Every few weeks, I see a post on my Facebook feed or a story pop up in the news about someone calling on the general public to help fund the cost of their medical bills. You know the kind I’m talking about: a mother with a debilitating disease who needs money to fly overseas for stem cell treatment; a father with cancer who wants specialised treatment only available in the US; a young man whose routine pre-job medical revealed a medical emergency who is now struggling to pay his bills.
First, let me say that I feel deep compassion for these people and their friends and families. Too many people’s lives are touched by terminal illness and the effects are traumatic and devastating. For anyone going through a medical emergency or long-term battle I extend my sympathy and best wishes.
But, is it fair to ask complete strangers to pay for your treatment? And, is crowd-funding even a realistic strategy for dealing with unexpected medical expenses?
Let’s face it, crowd-funding seems to be the flavour of the month when it comes to dealing with the unplanned, especially health issues. In fact, there’s a whole page on crowd-funding site Go Fund Me about fundraising for medical expenses. There are tips to improve the success of your campaign, lists of costs that can be crowdfunded and even step by step instructions about sharing your story with the wider community.
However, there are a number of risks to this ‘strategy’.
Firstly, there’s no guarantee that your campaign will be successful. Just because you set a target of $50,000 doesn’t mean that’s what you’ll end up with. Fundraising is a tough business, and you have to work hard to get people to open their wallets. If more and more people are turning to crowd-funding for help, how long before the public grows tired of donating to other people’s causes?
And do you even know how much you need? A gift of $10,000 might seem like a huge amount at the beginning of your medical ‘journey’ but how far will it go when you factor in lost income, childcare and the other bills that just keep coming? Can you keep asking for more donations? Personally, I know that if I were in the thick of treatment, I wouldn’t want to be worrying about money. I’d much rather focus all my attention on recovery.
Plus, when you crowd-fund you have to showcase your personal circumstances for all the world to see. There’s nothing more tragic than a video of a daughter pleading for help to keep their mummy or daddy alive, right? But is it really fair to parade your child’s grief to the world? Should they (and you) be subjected to the internet trolls with nothing better to do than post nasty messages on strangers’ Facebook pages? (Just look at the backlash that suspected drug-smuggler Cassie Sainsbury has received online. Whether you believe she’s innocent or not, her family has had to deal with some seriously ugly comments on her fundraising page.)
There is another option.
Long before the internet and social media, crowd-funding for medical bills was known as ‘life insurance’. The concept of life insurance is pretty similar to the way people fundraise now: a group of people make regular payments to a central fund, and then, when one of the group requires help, this money is distributed from the fund to the person in need. The only difference is that people are preparing in advance for the unexpected, rather than acting after it has occurred.
Planning upfront means you can calmly and carefully determine how much money you will need to deal with a tragic event. From securing the roof over your head by paying off the mortgage, to freeing up money to pay for interstate or overseas travel to visit loved ones, the benefits of creating a budget to take care of all these things cannot be overstated.
The problem with life insurance today is that the public has become fearful of financial institutions, believing they’re only in it for the profits and will do whatever they can to avoid paying a claim. I understand this fear, but I also see the figures these companies do pay out. Last year, Australia’s insurers paid over $8 billion in claims. And being an Adviser, I see the incredible impact that this money has on people’s lives.
Insurance money can be used to fund almost anything, from hospital trips, medication and therapies, to overseas travel for ground-breaking treatments. Or, in the worst of cases, it can be used to provide a positive future for those left behind. Plus, you can start your treatment knowing you’ve got the money secured, rather than wasting valuable time while you wait for the funds to be raised.
I understand that life gets expensive and sometimes insurance is the last thing you want to spend money on, but aren’t you better off having something rather than nothing? Advisers like myself can help you budget and structure insurances to suit your individual needs and means. I believe insurance is a far better, more responsible and reliable strategy for dealing with the unexpected than crowd-funding will ever be. I’d love to know your thoughts…