In a striking demonstration of the power of social media and the inadequacies of the American health care system, indie rapper P.O.S., whose real name is Stefon Alexander, has taken to the Internet to raise funds for a desperately needed kidney transplant operation and his subsequent recovery.
As Time reports, Alexander — who suffers from a chronic kidney disease — was successful in finding a kidney donor, but still lacked the money necessary to self-finance his operation and the long post-op recovery period it entails.
Lacking comprehensive health coverage, Alexander and his musical crew, Doomstree, turned to his fan base for help, creating a fundraising page on the social outreach website YouCaring.com. In the face of crushing medical costs and an unsteady income source, independent artists such as Alexander are no strangers to using crowd-based appeals to fill in the coverage gaps left by private insurance, according to Time:
Even though [Alexander] is insured, his insurance only offers minimal coverage designed for those with pre-existing conditions; his dialysis makes him eligible for Medicare too, which should cover the operation, but will leave him worrying about his care and living expenses. That worry is because ticketholders weren’t the only ones dealing with the fallout of the cancelled concerts: Alexander says that, because he doesn’t sell a huge number of records (his 2009 album Never Better hit No. 106 on the Billboard 200), he depends on live concerts to make a living. With the tour canceled, he has no way to pay for the care needed around the operation or for living expenses until he is able to tour again.
Doomtree’s use of online crowdfunding platforms is an innovative approach to the old tactic of benefit concerts and working with industry-based foundations. “This is nothing new,” says Neil Portnow, President and CEO of The Recording Academy. “This is a significant issue in the music community.” Musicians tend to have unstable incomes and not to think of themselves as small businesses that should insure the single employee. The community has long used nonprofits and DIY benefit concerts to funnel money from fans to artists in need—technology is just cutting out the middle man, the same way it has for artists who use crowdfunding to pay for recording their albums or going on tour. The Recording Academy also operates MusiCares, a foundation that assists musicians in emergencies (and which, says Alexander, gave him the idea that his fans and community might be a good safety net).
Although Alexander’s story serves as a reminder of the possibilities of technology and social networking sites, it is also reflective of a disconcerting trend in which some Americans are resorting to online crowd sourcing to pay off their medical bills due to a lack of affordable health insurance. And while the generosity of Internet strangers in such cases is touching, it is certainly not a consistent, sustainable, or defensible approach to covering Americans’ health care costs. It’s one thing to raise awareness of a musical tour or sponsor an album through the power of online communities — it’s another entirely to use them to pay for essential medical services.
Fortunately, Obamacare’s consumer protections that help extend access to health insurance to millions of additional Americans will go a long way towards making such desperate tactics unnecessary for self-employed and uninsured people. But until health costs for life-saving and chronic procedures come down to an affordable level, many Americans may still have to rely upon the kindness of strangers — and unfortunately, the vast majority of them won’t have automatic access to a loyal fan base like Alexander’s.