Dollar Costs and Emotional Penalties

Solid organ transplantation is one of the most expensive medical procedures routinely available today. Nearly $3 billion was spent on 18,274 organ transplants in 1994 [current year dollar amounts not available], and this amount does not even include the expensive and life-long follow-up care and medications which can easily run over $40,000 per person per year.

One reason for the steady rise in the number of people on the UNOS waiting list is that kidney, heart and liver transplants are no longer considered experimental. Therefore, most health insurance companies, as well as public assistance health care such as Medicare and Medicaid, now pay for these three most common types of transplants.

One factor raising costs is the expense of maintaining individuals while they await compatible organs. The longer they wait, the sicker they get, the more time they spend in the hospital, and the more it costs. If an individual is ill enough to require an organ transplant, they are surely going to have to expect to spend time in the hospital while they wait for that organ. Hospitalization can easily run over $1,500 per day. For example:

If the person requires hospitalization for just one month out of a typical six month waiting period, that’s an expense of approximately $50,000 -- an expense which would not have been necessary had an organ been available sooner.
The lack of donated organs ultimately adds up to excessive costs for care of individuals awaiting transplants. Additionally, as these individuals get progressively more ill, their chances for recovery once they actually are allocated an organ are similarly reduced.

The truth is that nobody gets an organ transplant without some kind of health insurance. The highest out-of-pocket dollar costs to families usually results when they're coming to a center at a distance is living costs, including transportation, maintaining the home at the transplant center as well as the home at home, and long distance telephone charges.

Other costs are emotional, not financial, in nature. The transplant process is incredibly stressful. The statistics of divorce among families who have any family member receiving an organ transplant -- whether a spouse or a child -- is nearly double the rate when compared with 'normal' families. It is amazing how many families are destroyed because of the pressures of organ transplant.

Should the cost of saving a life be the destruction of a family? That just doesn't make sense. It is very difficult for both parents to work and meet the extraordinary care needs of a child who has undergone an organ transplant. Yet, insurance companies don't cover home health care beyond an immediate post-surgical time period. More consistent application of financing guidelines could alleviate some of these emotional difficulties.