A doctor holding a clipboard.

Did a Medical Committee Recommend Fundraising for a Heart Transplant?

In November 2018, a Grand Rapids, Michigan woman who needed a heart transplant due to complications from chemotherapy was turned down by a Spectrum Health medical committee due to lack of funds:

Martin’s son, Alex Britt, said she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 and the chemotherapy treatment, while curing her cancer, damaged her heart to the extent that she requires a transplant and had to leave her job on disability. Britt said she walked dogs and would pet-sit to raise funds.

Martin said she was supposed to have a procedure Monday for an assistive device to help sustain her while waiting for a new heart. At the time, Martin had already raised $4,600 on GoFundMe for her prior medical bills.

Britt set up a new GoFundMe page to raise the additional $10,000 needed to cover the cost of the immunosuppressive drugs. The medical center reportedly would not consider Martin for a heart transplant without her being able to pay for the drugs.

The letter to Hedda Martin reportedly said, in part:

Your medical situation was presented to our multidisciplinary heart transplant committee on Tuesday, October 20, 2018. The decision made by the committee is that you are not a candidate at this time for a heart transplant due to needing a more secure financial plan for immunosuppressive medication coverage. The Committee is recommending a fundraising effort of $10,000.

The story went viral when it was shared by Rep-Elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York):

Insurance groups are recommending GoFundMe as official policy – where customers can die if they can’t raise the goal in time – but sure, single payer healthcare is unreasonable.

h/t @DanRiffle pic.twitter.com/zetPW0MgDd

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) November 24, 2018

The story is true. Spectrum Health acknowledged the letter in a lengthy statement on their official website, although the organization stopped short of discussing Martin’s specific circumstances:

It is important for patients to understand the long-term commitment they are making when accepting an organ donation. For this reason, we strive to ensure each patient is the best match so the donation contributes to a renewed life.

Each transplant candidate is evaluated by our highly-skilled multidisciplinary team of physicians, nurses, social workers, clinical ethicists, dieticians and other experts. Transplant eligibility is a complex process. It requires consideration of a multitude of factors based on established best practice standards used by transplant centers across the country. Physical health, psychological and social well-being, and financial resources are among the factors considered for each patient. The ability to pay for post-transplant care and life-long immunosuppression medications is essential to increase the likelihood of a successful transplant and longevity of the transplant recipient. We help patients understand the long-term health implications of a transplant along with their total financial commitment, such as post-transplant medication expenses paid to pharmacies of their choice.

Martin’s GoFundMe has raised more than enough to cover the costs of the immunosuppressant medication she needs, but her story is far from unusual. At least a third of the money raised on GoFundMe in 2017 was to help with medical issues, because health care costs in the United States are so high:

It’s become a go-to way for people in need to help pay their doctors. Medical fundraisers now account for 1 in 3 of the website’s campaigns, and they bring in more money than any other GoFundMe category, said GoFundMe CEO Rob Solomon.

“In the old paradigm you would give $20 to somebody who needed help,” Solomon said. “In the new paradigm, you’ll give $20, you’ll share that and that could turn into 10, 20, 50 or 100 people doing that. So, the $20 could turn in hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.”

Since at least 2017, a majority of Americans have listed access to affordable healthcare as one of their most pressing concerns.