High medical costs spur online fundraisers

Thus began an endless series of chemotherapy sessions costing $13,000 each, multiple surgeries and several prescriptions.

The toll of his illness and its expense has hit his family hard, he said.

“I’m tired of seeing Cindy (his wife) upset all the time wondering how the bills will get paid,” Fant posted on the popular crowd-funding website, GoFundMe.

All toll, Fant’s GoFundMe campaign has raised $3,000 since its launch Jan. 21.

“The funds give me anything I need for my cancer and also pay for anything medically,” Fant said.

Fant’s fund is just small fraction of the of the nearly $500,000 in donations area campaigns have collected since GoFundMe was started in 2010, said Maggie Perry, a company spokeswoman.

Nationwide, GoFundMe has raised more than $800 million, of which, about $200 million has gone to cover medical expenses — the fastest growing category for donations, Perry said.

The number of contributions for medical expenses was up more than 293 percent in 2014, when more than 600,000 medical campaigns were launched, compared to just over 158,000 in 2013.

Health care experts say skyrocketing medical costs have left many families with the dire decision to either forego treatment or face financial ruin.

Comprehensive cancer care, for example, can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and many specialty cancer drugs aren’t covered by insurance, said Kev Coleman, director of research and data for HealthPocket — a California company that compares and ranks health plans.

While prescription drug costs for new cancer treatments are soaring, many health insurers will only cover those drugs they deem the safest and most cost-effective, which excludes many of the newest treatments.

“One of the biggest consumer misconceptions is that their health plan covers all drugs,” Coleman said. “They don’t. Whether it’s Medicare, Obamacare, whatever. If you don’t have savings to deal with unforeseen medical costs like this, it’s no surprise that you’d look at alternative ways to raise money.”

Middletown Firefighter Robert King, who is dealing with serious heart issues and may be a candidate for a future heart transplant, is receiving help from firefighters near and far through GoFundMe donations.

So far, $9,000 has been raised to help with King’s medical expenses by donors, including fellow firefighters like Chris Klug.

“He’s seeing some improvement, but he has a long way to go yet,” Klug said of King, who has been a Middletown firefighter for about 11 years. “He’s known around the region and has worked for fire departments in Colerain Twp. and in North College Hill.”

What really touched Klug is how many people and from how far away donations have come. He said firefighters from the Fire Department of New York and others from throughout southwest Ohio have made donations.

Klug said one donation was from a woman whose husband recognized King in a television news report as the paramedic who helped his wife once.

“It’s unbelievable that someone would recognize him as the person who helped them and turn around to pay back to help him,” Klug said. “It’s such a blessing when people reach out like that.”

While crowd-funding campaigns allows those in need to reach vast numbers of potential donors, the platform is ripe for fraud.

Most recently, scammers using the name of a 4-year-old boy who drowned in North Carolina set up bogus GoFundMe accounts to solicit donations to help pay for funeral costs, diverting donations from the legitimate campaign set up by his mother.

Charity watchdog groups urge consumers to use common sense when making donations.

“Generally, we encourage consumers to make sure they know where their money is really going,” said Kate Hanson, spokeswoman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. “Unfortunately, we have seen scams where people use the names of well-known organizations to collect money, but the money never ends up going to the organization. In that case, you would want to contact the charity itself to make sure they know about the fundraiser.”

Staff Writer Ed Richter contributed to this report.

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