A single hospital stay can cost a patient tens of thousands of dollars. This is driving many people to crowdfunding in order to pay for their medical bills.

If it weren’t for Medicaid, the parents of a 3-year-old child born with a rare disorder would have owed more than $200,000 for their son’s one-week stay in the hospital.

In 2017, the child’s mother, Alison Chandra, posted an image of the hospital bill on Twitter. She followed up with a summary of the details.

“I’ll save you some math; without insurance, we would owe $231,115 for 10 hours in the OR, 1 week in the CICU, and 1 week on the cardiac floor,” she wrote.

Chandra’s son was born with heterotaxy syndrome, which required him to have four open-chest surgeries before his third birthday.

Chandra told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Medicaid picked up the tab for her prenatal care and her son’s first two surgeries. After insurance, they ended up owing $500.

The family’s medical expenses were covered by insurance that her husband got through his new job. Without Medicaid, though, the parents might have ended up like many other Americans who file for bankruptcy each year due to overwhelming medical bills.

With complicated health problems that require intensive hospital care, medical bills can quickly add up.

The average cost per hospital stay in the U.S. was $11,700 in 2016, according to a report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

Septicemia (blood poisoning) was ranked as the most expensive, accounting for $38.2 billion or 8.8% percent of combined costs for all hospital stays in 2017.

This was followed by these conditions in order of highest to lowest cost:

In 2016, research from the University of Michigan found that for people with private health insurance, the out-of-pocket cost for a hospital stay was more than $1,000 in 2013. This was a 37% increase over 2009.

This rise was mainly due to increases in deductibles, or how much of the medical expenses someone has to pay before most services are covered by their insurance plan.

People also paid a larger percentage of their medical expenses after they met their deductible, a process known as coinsurance.

However, this data was gathered prior to Covid-19. A 2022 study looking at the out-of-pocket costs for hospitalization due to COVID-19 found that the median cost for the privately insured was $287 ($59-$842), as well as $271 ($63-$783) for those insured through Medicare Advantage.

Another 2022 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation also found that the average family insurance premiums rose by 20% since 2017 and 43% since 2012.

When people lose their insurance coverage, they risk being slammed with medical bills. This can happen when a person leaves a job due to illness, or other reasons like having to take care of a sick child or spouse.

Research has found that about 66.5% of all bankruptcies are caused directly by medical expenses.

A few years ago, there were signs that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) might ease some of the burden of medical bankruptcies. A 2017 study by Consumer Reports found that bankruptcy filings in the United States dropped by 50% to 770,846 between 2010 and 2016 — the period during which the ACA has been in effect.

However, a 2018 survey by the U.S. Census also found that 19% of U.S. households have medical debt, with a higher percentage among people from historically marginalized groups.

Of these, 4% of respondents reported a debt of 20% or more of their household’s annual income. This figure rose to 8.5% when looking at people with no health insurance, compared to 2.9% of people who are covered.

Illness is a slippery financial slope, especially when your health insurance coverage depends on you — or another member of your family — to continue working during the illness.

According to a 2016 survey by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, more than one-quarter of American adults said that they have major financial problems as a result of healthcare costs.

That’s why some people are turning to crowdfunding sites to raise money to pay for their medical expenses. It involves seeking donations from family, friends, and others through online campaigns. People use crowdfunding websites to raise money for creative projects, new businesses, and healthcare costs.

Out-of-pocket medical expenses account for the bulk of the crowdfunding requests, but people also seek money to cover transportation, child care, and lost wages.

In a 2016 study, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, University of Washington Bothell (UWB), researchers found similar success rates on GoFundMe. On average, 200 campaigns brought in about 40% of their funding goals.

This shows that crowdfunding can work for some people, but it is no cure-all. While about 12% of Americans report donating to a medical crowdfunding campaign, a 2022 study found that in 2020 only 12% of the GoFundMe campaigns in the research met their goals. About 16% got no donations at all. That means some people may still be struggling to pay their medical bills.

Crowdfunding seems like the epitome of the free market system touted by many politicians. However, it may also be a symptom of inequalities in health insurance coverage in the United States.

For example, people who are white represented more than 75% of those who received money from medical crowdfunding compared to only 8% of Black people.

In fact, people who are successful at crowdfunding campaigns may not be the ones most in need. Instead, people’s success at crowdfunding may depend on how comfortable they are with “self-marketing for financial survival,” as well as using online crowdfunding sites and social media.