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What If Crowdfunding Is *Not* A Great Healthcare System?
Mary Lou Retton needed $50,000. So far, she got $375,000.
Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton is very sick and in the hospital with what is being referred to as “a rare form of pneumonia.” That’s very sad, as is the fact that she does not have health insurance and thus cannot afford her stay in the ICU. They started a crowdfund for her, which has since blown past its $50,000 goal all the way to over $375,000. This included one $50,000 donation from Linda McIngvale, wife of Gallery Furniture magnate Jim McIngvale.
And boy, isn’t that just the kind of thing that makes you want to cheer for American generosity? 6,547 people coming together to try to save the life of an icon? Going above and beyond the call of duty?
Now, when I first heard that Retton didn’t have health insurance and her family was raising money on GoFundMe to pay for her medical treatment, I immediately assumed it was some kind of very tragic Erin Moran/Brett Butler situation and that despite her former fame, she couldn’t even afford health insurance. That’s likely what many of those who donated assumed, as we’ve all seen this movie before, especially among those who became famous while they were very young (see: Gary Coleman, Mickey Rooney).
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“How very American!” thought I, until I looked into it and saw that she is, in fact, likely still very rich, lives in a very fancy 9,000 square foot mansion, and very likely just kind of chose not to have health insurance.
This, I suppose, is also very American. And even if it was her choice, that doesn’t mean that this situation isn’t a tragedy and that the American healthcare system in and of itself is not a tragedy. Because maybe “choice,” in the way people mean it when they talk about health insurance, is not a good thing.
Social media users have said that Retton is a Republican, has campaigned for Republicans who oppose the ACA, is a vocal Trump supporter and that she is an anti-vaxxer. What I’ve found evidence for, after looking into each of these claims, is that the article about her on Wikipedia says that she campaigned for and did commercials for Reagan (the citation for this is broken), made an appearance at the 2004 Republican National Convention and that there are screenshots of her railing against athletes who don’t stand for the National Anthem and sharing Facebook posts from pages like “Rowdy Republicans” or Fox and Friends. Also that she campaigned against Dianne Feinstein’s SafeSport Authorization Act, meant to protect young athletes from sex abuse following the Larry Nassar scandal, which is a pretty horrific thing to do.
To be clear, the other things could very well be true, it’s just difficult to get much non-pneumonia information on her right now to confirm them as an actual fact.
Whatever her personal politics are, instead of paying into the system like everyone else, Retton likely rolled the dice and figured she’d risk it — but an unforeseen illness came for her. So she turns to crowdfunding to help her with the costs and, because of her fame, raises seven times more than what she reportedly needed for her care. Also, this care supposedly cost at least $50,000, which is about $5,000 more than the median US salary.
Had she done things the right way, the money that she paid into the system would have helped others, and then, when she was ill it would have helped her. Doing things this way, the only person who actually got any help is Mary Lou Retton. So it’s not just a bad system for her, it’s a bad system for everyone else as well!
A full third of the fundraisers on GoFundMe are for medical expenses, which collectively bring in about $650 million every year. It’s a system in which the amount of money you get is based on how beloved you are, how well you did in the (boycotted) Olympics, how cute your pictures are, how many followers you have on social media, and how good you are at tugging on the heart strings of potential donors.
That is some evil “Black Mirror” shit.
It can be hard for some of us to wrap our heads around the fact that people are so kind and generous when it comes to paying for one person’s healthcare and yet so opposed to the idea of universal healthcare for everybody. But this is partly because the Right (and the center) has been able to successfully convince people that social programs are bad because some of that money just might go to people they find undeserving or lazy. Crowdfunding fixes that problem by allowing them to only donate to those they find truly deserving.
And yet it is still an incredibly inefficient and, frankly, expensive way to do things. I want everyone, including those I don’t like, to have health care. If I hated Mary Lou Retton, I would still want her to have health care — and not just because I am a wonderful and generous person who doesn’t believe in the death penalty, but because she has pneumonia, and pneumonia is contagious.
You would think that, after COVID, people would have figured out that it is insane for everyone to not have health care, given the existence of contagious viruses. Apparently not!
Forty-three percent of Americans are underinsured, including the nine percent who don’t have any health insurance at all. Not only do most Americans not have $50,000 on hand for a hospital stay to take care of pneumonia, they do not have $1000 they could spend for their own medical emergency. In 2022, 40 percent of Americans say they skipped getting medical care because they couldn’t afford it. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, there was “$88 billion in medical debt on consumer credit records as of June 2021. The total amount of medical debt in collections in the U.S. is likely higher, since not all medical debts in collections are furnished to consumer reporting companies.”
Imagine if we could take all the beautiful generosity people have towards individuals with GoFundMes and put it towards a single payer health care system that 22 different studies say would actually be cheaper than our current, very stupid and inefficient system. What a world!