My name is Stephanie Wittels Wachs, and I’m launching a GoFundMe campaign to fund other GoFundMe campaigns. Specifically, health-related GoFundMe campaigns.
After a judge in Texas ruled last week that parts, and therefore all, of the Affordable Care Act were unconstitutional, I joked that I should start a GoFundMe campaign to fund all of the GoFundMe campaigns that will inevitably pop up after 32 million people lose their health insurance.
So I’m doing that. This is not a joke.
I get that it probably reads like satire because it should be, but I am dead serious about this. Serious as a GoFundMe funded heart attack.
Why Am I Doing This?
Because I’m a human being who knows, loves, and cares about other human beings. I understand that, because I am a human being, there is a 100% chance that either I or someone in my bloodline or MySpace Top 8 will need a medically necessary device, procedure, or treatment at some point in their lives. I also know that, even with the ACA in tact — FOR NOW, healthcare has become a luxury item for people with means.
It’s important to note that I’m not asking for money. This isn’t for me, but I do understand the white hot rage that comes along with having special medical needs for which your insurance company basically says with unbridled emotional detachment, “Nah.”
I get it because both of my children were born with varying degrees of congenital hearing loss. One has bilateral mild-moderate hearing loss; the other is profoundly deaf in one ear. It’s one of those things where it was a lot at first and now it’s like, “Oh yeah, that/no big deal/they’re forces of nature/it’s all good.”
What isn’t all good is that most insurance companies consider hearing aids “cosmetic” and, thus, refuse to cover them. Cosmetic! Like make-up! My four year old has worn her hearing aids since she was six weeks old. I ask you: Have you ever seen hearing aids on a baby? Definitely not cosmetic!
More importantly, a lack of early intervention and amplification in young children can severely impact speech and language development, academic achievement, and social and emotional development. Sounds pretty darned medically necessary to me!
But we’re clearly living in the Upside Down because prior to September 2017, we had to pay for out daughter’s hearing aids completely out of pocket.
Fun fact: A pair of hearing aids costs anywhere from $6,000 — $9,000 and have to be replaced every 3–5 years.
This. Is. Insane. We weren’t having it for our child or for other children like her in the state of Texas. So, for two legislative sessions spanning three years, we drove back and forth to Austin to testify in front of various Senate and House committees. We walked the halls of the state capitol with our little girl in tow, making personal contact with every elected official and legislative staffer. We produced a YouTube video, wrote several op-eds in the Houston Chronicle, and launched an online petition that garnered nearly 10,000 signatures.
And by the grace of whomever it is you believe in, it worked! As of September 2017, Texas became the 23rd state in America to mandate insurance coverage of hearing aids and cochlear implants for children under 18.
Cut to today.
Our daughter’s hearing aids are reaching the end of their life span. They’re essentially tiny computers and nearing the 4 year mark, so they’re draining batteries left and right and constantly going dead. It’s time for us to part ways.
AND I’VE BEEN SO EXCITED ABOUT IT BECAUSE WE WORKED SO HARD TO PASS THIS BILL AND ALL OF OUR HARD WORK WAS FINALLY ABOUT TO PAY OFF! WOO-HOO!!!
However, even with coverage, Aetna still has stipulations. The hearing aids are only covered every three years and, even then, they will only cover a percentage until the deductible has been met. I assumed that since I had grown and given birth to a second human being this year that surely our family deductible had been met.
Nope. Not so. Not even close.
Turns out, even after all the expenses related to pregnancy and childbirth, we’ve *only* met $9,862.18 of our $12,000.00 out of pocket maximum. This is $9,862.18 IN ADDITION to the $900 we pay in premiums every month for a family of four.
So, my daughter’s new hearing aids, which, I might add, are the base model and *still* have a price tag of $5500, will cost us a grant total of $2,088.39 out of pocket. With insurance. After paying $9,862.18 this year PLUS $10,800 in premiums for a grand total of 2018 health-related expenses coming in at (drumroll please): $22,750!
If I wrote it on a check, it would look like this: TWENTY TWO THOUSAND SEVEN HUNDRED FIFTY DOLLARS AND 00/100 — — — — — — — — — —
That’s a lot of fucking money.
It’s important to note, however, that none of this diminishes the fact that I’m ecstatic about these new hearing aids. My daughter also can’t stop talking about them, and I’m grateful that we live in a time and place where technology is an option for her. Really incredible technology, at that! They’re bluetooth compatible, and the molds are pink and sparkly, and our audiologist swears they’re going to sound a million times better than her current hearing aids.
But I am downright flummoxed that we live in a country where it’s acceptable for a middle class family to pay $22,750 in health-related expenses in one year while Mark Bertolini, the CEO of Aetna, made nearly $59 million in 2017.
And he’s not the only one.
Cigna CEO David Cordani made $44 million. Humana CEO Bruce Broussard made $20 million. United Healthcare’s David S. Wichmann made $17 million. The CEOs of Pfizer and Express Scripts collectively pull in around $50 million a year.
To add insult to injury, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently tweeted out a letter that someone had received from their insurance company straight up denying them a heart transplant until the patient orchestrated their own “$10,000 fundraising effort.”
Is this even real life?
Insurance companies, run by CEOs who make TENS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS, are literally recommending crowdfunding to disabled, sick and dying people instead of just going ahead and covering their necessary medical procedures, devices and life-saving treatments LIKE THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO.
It’s a gargantuan mess and something with which so many of us are privately dealing. When I posted this saga on Facebook the other day, I got so many responses from people who are equally frustrated with the healthcare system in America.
Sparky said: “My out of pocket max is officially $7000. However I’ve paid twice that. When I inquired there a lot of exceptions on what ‘counts’.”
Kim said: “I have to take Topamax for my epilepsy and because I am allergic to the generic (makes my hair fall out) which would cost me like $17-$21 a month, I have to take the regular brand name which costs me about $445 a month AFTER insurance.”
Janice said: “As a healthy self employed person, I have paid out almost half a million dollars in insurance premiums over the last 42 years, and except for an annual physical in the last few years, I have never collected one dime from insurance. Instead, my premiums have always been more than my mortgage, and my deductible has been over $10,000 for years.”
Cathy said: “The AFOs (leg braces) my orthotist says I need are 16000 and are not covered by insurance at all. Be on the lookout for a GoFundMe one day. Because that’s the new health care plan.”
Because Cathy needs new leg braces. And it’s impossible to scroll through any social media platform without encountering a myriad of soul-crushing GoFundMe requests from friends, friends of friends, and complete strangers. Especially when many of your friends are working artists, freelancers, and self-employed, many of whom aren’t able to afford health insurance at all.
My friend Kyle posted one last week asking for $30,000 to fund a bariatric surgery that could literally extend his life by decades. In his words, “my insurance has an exclusion to bariatric surgery and I have to pay for everything out-of-pocket. So, after much consideration and years of research and planning, I have decided to ask for help. I have spent the past 10 years researching this procedure. I have also spent the past year working with my employer to change our insurance to a plan that would cover the surgery. Unfortunately, it is clear that this is never going to happen.”
My friend Tamarie posted a GoFundMe a few months back for our friend Jason who needed stem cell therapy to combat his late stage Lyme disease and chronic Epstein-Barr virus. He was asking for $20,000.
Then there’s Ms. Ballard, the woman who literally taught me how to write, recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and needing help to cover all of her medical expenses. Her colleague Laura asked for $20,000 on her behalf. She received $30,000. See? There is some benefit in positively impacting the lives of thousands of students over the course of a decades-long teaching career.
Scrolling through my own GoFundMe receipts, I see campaigns for 7 year old Henley who needed invasive brain surgery for complications related to Chiari Malformation and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome; Alfred Torres who was fighting cancer; Belle & Abby Andrews, two young sisters both diagnosed with Neimann Pick Type C1, a life-threatening disease.
And that’s just MY personal network.
Forbes published an article in August that included tons of alarming data on the GoFundMe healthcare front including:
- Costs are three times the average of other nations.
- More and more, yearly deductibles are in the $10,000 range.
- One in three campaigns through GoFundMe are for medical costs and the GoFundMe site states they are the leader in online medical fundraising.
- There are over 250,000 medical campaigns per year raising $650 million each year.
Let’s look at that last one again: There are over 250,000 medical campaigns per year raising $650 million each year.
Our healthcare system is so badly broken and needs a complete overhaul, fix, remodel, kick in the teeth, etc. But, in the meantime, we continue to be a bunch of living organisms trucking along as best we can as we silently decay in a variety of ways, at a variety of speeds, every minute of every day.
As the character Blanche DuBois says in A Streetcar Named Desire as she’s getting carted away to an institution against her will, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
To that end, I’m looking to raise $190 million, which is the combined total of the CEO salaries listed above. Let’s see how far four people’s salaries can go. It could potentially cover 19,000 GoFundMe campaigns at $10,000 each.
My role is that I will dole this money out to ANY AND ALL medical-related GoFundMe pages I encounter. Basically I’m starting my very own insurance company that actually cares about sick people getting what they need instead of lining my own pockets. I hope it goes without saying, but I am not going to take a single dollar of this money.
You give, I give.
LET’S DO THIS, FAM.