By: James Tully
MECHANICSBURG, Pa. -- People who are finding themselves in over their head with medical costs are turning to a new method to keep from filing bankruptcy, instead of relying strictly on government programs to keep them afloat.
It's called internet crowdfunding.
Lori Mardis feels like she's been losing a nearly five-month long battle. With her father's skyrocketing medical costs piling up, and his income just barely disqualifying him from assistance, Lori is turning to the internet -- and the kindness of strangers -- to help defray some of the costs.
"From Nov. 7 I've been fighting this phone call after phone call to different places. Sometimes you get different stories, from the same place you get different quotes, it's crazy," Lori said.
She is caring for her father, Ed. He's a 79-year-old former dock worker stricken with a blood disorder requiring him to take medication that keeps his ammonia levels down.
"When they said $1600 a pill, it just about floored me," Ed said.
Lori said she's seeing firsthand how much prescription drugs slice into her father's pension every month, even with his insurance coverage.
That drug, Xifaxan, at first wasn't covered by Ed's insurance. That meant out of his monthly $2,200 pension, 75 percent of it went to cover his medication.
In 2015 the price of Xifaxan went up, but Ed's insurance started covering some of the cost.
"When you're paying $721.76 for one medication, it's still ridiculous," Lori said.
She said she's tried seemingly everything to get the cost down.
Ed's pension is slightly above the threshold to qualify for any major prescription programs, and even worse, he said, is watching his daughter's efforts come up short.
The costs come down to the equivalent of a mortgage for Ed. He can't live by himself, even if he wanted to, and he still doesn't qualify for any assistance programs.
With the out-of-pocket costs being too much and if the government can't provide enough assistance, maybe the financial help this family, and others, may need, is just a few clicks away.
Two Mechanicsburg neighbors, Shawnna Abel and Sandy Adams, grew up together in Kansas, and seemingly had fate bring them back together.
Now their bond is even stronger. When Sandy needed help, Shawnna was there -- in person and online.
While Sandy was out of town, the boiler in her home stopped working. Her husband, George, developed hypothermia and fell into a diabetic shock with his blood sugar dropping to a life-threatening level.
George developed an infection that's kept him in an intensive care unit since the end of last year.
"He had been sick. We thought with the flu or food poisoning, and then he just collapsed on New Year's Eve," Sandy said.
It was Shawnna's idea to start a GoFuneMe page to help replace the boiler and cover some of George's medical costs. With that gesture, help started coming in from near and far.
The GoFundMe page seemed like the perfect solution. It's a form of crowdfunding, with the goal being raising money from a large group of people on the web.
GoFundMe has become a popular way for individuals and groups to work to raise money to cover expenses. It's one of several personal fundraising sites and has been operating since 2010.
The site claims to have raised more than $670 million for people in need.
In 21 days, 30 donors raised nearly $4,000 from people they knew, and even some they didn't.
"Some of our other friends share the story and it reaches their friends as well," Sandy said.
GoFundMe allows users to set up a page for free.
If crowdfunding is helping Sandy, perhaps it could it help Lori and Ed. Lori set up a GoFundMe page, and she started sharing it on Facebook.
For pages to be successful, the site suggests sharing it frequently on social media and with family and friends.
People set up a payment account, or link it to a bank account, and can request a check or transfer of the funds raised at any time.
The page isn't entirely free, however. GoFundMe takes 5 percent of each donation and issues a 3 percent credit card processing fee. Those fees are similar with other crowdfunding sites, which charge as little at 4 percent and as much as 9 percent.
Another crowdfunding website, GiveForward.com, said medical costs are the number one reason for personal bankruptcy in the United States. GoFundMe said in 2014 more than $147 million went to help with medical bills.
When selecting a GoFundMe site to make a donation toward, it is consumer beware.
GoFundMe said it's not feasible to investigate every claim made by millions of fundraising campaigns to make sure they are legitimate, whether it's for someone seeking help with medical bills or a group fundraising for a trip.
The site recommends potential donors to only give to people and causes they personally know and trust.