Micro-Lending Site Offers Treatment Options for Autism, But at What Price?

By Melissa Lafsky | August 18, 2008 4:48 pm

ABC News has a report on the Lend4Health blog, which offers a person-to-person lending system for parents who can’t afford and/or whose insurance won’t cover autism treatments for their children. The concept follows the model of Prosper.com and other individual loan sites. But the idea behind it—loans exclusively for treatments of a particular disorder—is unique among micro-lenders.

The system was created by Tori Tuncan, a mother of two who decided to take action after hearing one too many stories about insurers denying coverage for autism therapies. Tuncan acts as the money go-between, reviewing pictures, bios, references, and the treatments desired by potential borrowers, and then doling out micro-loans at her discretion.

It’s true that this kind of system could be a potential lifesaver for patients who desperately need certain procedures or treatments, but are caught in insurance company red tape and can’t come up with the money. But the current setup of one person deciding what treatments are worth funding, and handing out funds accordingly, sets a dangerous precedent. Tuncan is not a doctor and has no medical training. In fact, it’s unclear if she has any particular knowledge about the complexities of autism therapies, or the controversies surrounding them.

But none of that stops her from seeing that certain types of care receive funding. As ABC writer Lauren Cox points out, the site advocates “bio-medial” treatments, which include the highly unproven and potentially dangerous chelation. Another woman is seeking a big chunk of cash for her son’s hyperbaric oxygen chamber therapy—which, while effective for encephalitis, has yet to be proven to treat autism. Not to mention that the costs run in the thousands of dollars per session.

Insurance companies leave plenty to be desired as far as updating their policies to cover the latest medical advances, and there’s nothing stopping the free market from creating new and innovative ways to fund medical care. But sometimes untested and risky procedures aren’t covered because they’re just that—untested and risky. Letting the market circumvent that fact could be putting people’s health on the line.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health Care
MORE ABOUT: autism

Comments (171)

  1. While I agree with some of this article, I think you are putting too much on Tori Tuncan. Everything you mention could apply to the local bank down the street too.

    We are doing biomedical treatments and seeing good results, but I have to say that borrowing to pay for these treatments should be the last resort. Parents in a financial bind can find themselves in more of a bind when they start repaying the loan and still need money for biomedical treatments. Before you borrow, you should have a garage sale, sell everything not nailed down, and maybe get the dreaded second job. This isn’t free money.

    Just my two cents,
    FJH
    http://autismparents.net

  2. Kim Rosenberg

    Please research more about what you blog about. First, your suggestion that these therapies are life-threatening is hyperbole, most biomedical treatments are very low risk. Second, you would have to agree, given your position, that many mainstream medical treatments are life-threatening as well — chemotherapy for example, while it can save lives, can also have a very detrimental effect. That does not mean that all cancer patients should avoid it. Many surgeries are “life-threatening” as well. Using your criteria, medicine would be thrown back to the stone ages. With respect to hyperbaric (“HBOT”) therapy, you state several incorrect facts. There is at least one study (and possibly more) on the benefits of hyperbaric therapy and autism published. Moreover, it does not cost “thousands” of dollars per session — that is a ridiculous exaggeration. It can cost under $100 per session in a mild HBOT unit and usually somewhere between $100-$200 in a “hard” chamber. Your exaggerations seem designed to turn people away from exploring a therapy that has benefited literally thousands of children. Ms. Tuncan has done an admirable job of addressing the incorrect information you blogged about concerning her efforts to help families

  3. Tori, I do admire you for what you are doing, but I am a Dave Ramsey junkie and the basic premise there is “if you can’t pay for it, you can’t afford it.”

    Financial problems are the #1 cause of divorce and we all know that parents of kids with autism have a high divorce rate too. When you combine the too, it is often the perfect storm.

    Parents should think long and hard before the borrow to pay for treatments. Your small amount loans probably won’t sink a marriage, but if parents see borrowing as the solution, they can quickly find themselves overwhelmed with debt and divorced. I think what you are doing is a good thing, but parents should know that borrowing money introduces increased risk in their lives.

    FJH
    http://autismparents.net

  4. Dear Fielding, Thank you for your response. Personally, I’m a Suze Orman junkie, and she has a similar premise. :) I appreciate your bringing this up because it’s true what you’re saying – money issues and debt can be challenging for a marriage, and I certainly do hope that parents are thinking carefully before sending in a loan request. So far, it seems like they are making sure they choose repayment terms that they can handle — for example $20 or so a month. I am going to think about this subject, though. Perhaps I can compile some info to send to parents who have sent in a loan request. I certainly don’t want to cause more stress in parents’ lives . . . my intent is to decrease the stress! :) So I really do appreciate your comments. Thanks, Fielding!

    Tori
    http://lend4health.blogspot.com

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