3. The unofficial health care system
When we talk about the cost and complexity of the U.S. health care system, we usually don’t account for the time, money and labor donated by friends and family members — sometimes even strangers. But those unofficial supports are a large and growing part of American health care.
Caregivers spend their own money, take time away from work and provide help that would otherwise be very expensive — it would all add up to billions of dollars, if they were paid.
- Health care expert Aaron Carroll writes in the New York Times about his experience helping out a friend who was undergoing cancer treatment, and similar stories from others: spouses and siblings taking time off work to be there during treatment; friends pitching in to offer a ride to the hospital, or help with child care.
Patients also rely on friends, family and strangers to pay their bills.
- Medical campaigns on GoFundMe raise about $650 million per year.
Access to these unofficial support systems is not equal.
- A successful medical GoFundMe often takes a certain level of production value, and volunteer caregiving often requires a flexible job and disposable income.
What's next: Lawmakers in several states are considering tax credits to help caregivers either hire professional help or defray certain costs, Kaiser Health News reports.
The bottom line, from Carroll: "Rides to the hospital are care. The time spent at home with those recuperating after procedures is care. Watching and monitoring and caring for the ill in their home is just as much care as doing the same in a hospital. We are willing to pay a fortune for the former, and almost nothing for the latter."