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Millions of Americans Help Others Pay Medical Bills Through Crowdfunding

New survey finds 1 in 5 have donated to aid friends or strangers

women looking at a charity campaign on a digital tablet as one presses the donate button

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One in 5 Americans — approximately 50 million people — say that they or someone in their household have contributed to a crowdfunding campaign to pay for medical bills or treatments, according to findings from a University of Chicago survey published this week.

"As annual out-of-pocket costs continue to rise, more Americans are struggling to pay their medical bills, and millions are turning to their social networks and crowdfunding sites to fund medical treatments and pay medical bills,” said Mollie Hertel, senior research scientist at NORC. That University of Chicago research institution carried out the survey, the latest in the AmeriSpeak Spotlight on Health series.

"Although about a quarter of Americans report having sponsored or donated to a campaign, this share is likely to increase in the face of rising premiums and out-of-pocket costs,” she said.

The findings reveal that crowdfunding, the process by which individuals raise money through sites such as GoFundMe, is not limited to people who know one another.

Of those who had donated to a crowdfunding campaign in the past, 46 percent of respondents said they had done so for a friend, followed by 35 percent who had donated to a stranger — higher than the number who had donated to a relative (24 percent) or coworker (14 percent).

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Despite their willingness to help, 61 percent of respondents said that the government has a “great deal” or “a lot” of responsibility when it comes to providing help when medical care is unaffordable, followed by hospitals or clinics and charities.

Still, the survey (which polled a nationally representative sample of 1,020 Americans 18 and older) found that approximately 8 million Americans had started a campaign for themselves or someone in their household, while more than 12 million had started a campaign for someone else.

"It is clear that Americans want government and providers to work together to provide charity or assistance when needed,” said Susan Cahn, senior research scientist at NORC. “Fewer Americans think that family, friends, or even strangers should shoulder the costs of care that patients and their families cannot afford.”

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