Author: Ashlee Davis
About the Author: Ashlee is a junior in high school, and very determined to make her way into the medical field one day. Despite growing up in a small town, she strives for greatness through online medical classes. She hopes to be a neurosurgeon one day.
Are you an organ donor? Many people do not know the background of organ donation, or what it consists of. Cleveland Clinic advertises, “organ donation as the process of removing an organ from one person and surgically placing it in another person.” In a deceased organ donor, most organs, including skin and corneas, can be donated, if the blood type matches with the recipient’s. According to the United Network of Organ Sharing, on average, 95 organ transplants are performed every day. Sadly, only 3 in 1,000 people die in a way for their organs to be harvested, leaving 102,499 people on the waiting list (“Organ Donation Statistics”). It is very challenging to harvest organs, as doctors have a very small time frame where the organs are viable. Once there is no circulation in the body, after 15-20 minutes the body begins to die, and the organs are no longer usable. After death, organs are sent to medical waste, which is a waste of viable resources, instead, everyone should be an organ donor to save our population. Despite organ donation and transplant surgeries saving lives, the exceedingly high cost of surgeries, required tests, with ICU bills, and anti-rejection medication can bankrupt a patient or deny them the best medical care, therefore organ transplants should be free for the donor and recipient.
The price of surgeries is outrageous, and still on the upward rise as resources become scarce. When a patient requires an organ transplant to save their life, many do not think about the cost until receiving all medical bills. Patients are billed 80 days prior, and 180 days after the surgery, not including additional days in the hospital, and testing. Surgeries are nowhere near cheap, and without insurance the prices are unimaginable. Medicare is a common type of health insurance but does not cover as much as one would expect. The company advertises, “you pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount for your doctor’s services, and the Part B deductible applies, along with various costs for transplant facility charges” (“Organ Transplants”). Despite the company paying 80%, referring to Figure 2 from the 2020 Milliman Research Report, 20% remaining for the patient to pay is a substantial amount.
To outline the patient’s cost, the least expensive organ transplant in 2020 was a cornea transplant with a total surgical cost of $32,500. With Medicare, the patient had a remaining balance of $6,500 without all the additional costs from the procedure. On the high end of the spectrum, a heart transplant costs $1,664,800, with insurance applied, the patient must pay $332,960, which is just as expensive as a house. A frequently asked question is, what if I cannot afford it? JoNel Aleccia writes in The New York Times 2018, “about 20 percent of the patients who turn to the foundation each year fail to raise the needed funds. In those cases, the patients don’t get the organs they need. Hedda Martin, 60, of Grand Rapids, was informed that she was not a candidate for a heart transplant because of her finances.” Hospitals should be more concerned about their patients rather than the payment. What many do not know is “patients might die and not get transplanted even though they may have an 80 percent chance of survival” (Aleccia). Many assume the people will remain on the waiting list, but some do not have time to wait. If the price of surgeries decreased, more people would be able to receive the life-saving surgeries they need, without the stress of financing the treatment which could potentially worsen the patient’s condition.
After surgery, patients are transferred to the ICU to recover and are given additional testing. The cost of a patient’s ICU stay depends on multiple factors. The National Center of Biotechnology Information says, “total service costs are 38.51% drug costs, 24.45% tools/equipment, 13.14% laboratory tests, 10% other costs, 4.92% surgical costs and 3.1% radiographic tests” (Reanim). To reference a starting point from the NIH, some patients may require different treatments, altering the cost. If mechanical ventilation is needed, the starting cost on the first day is $10,794. If the patient is stable and able to breathe on their own the cost is $6,667. The length of time the patient is in the ICU after an organ transplant surgery depends on the procedure, see Figure 3 from the 2020 Milliam Research Report.
To illustrate the vast amount of money required, the shortest stay from a kidney transplant based on the data from 2017, multiplied by the cost of mechanical ventilation is $72,319.80. The number is strictly the room and breathing support, not including the drug cost, additional tools and equipment, and tests. Being a donor is a long process and is rewarding in the end for both parties, although not always the recipient since they are responsible for all costs.“Costs include: insurance deductibles, insurance co-pays, pre-transplant evaluation and testing, fees for surgeons, physicians, radiologists, anesthesiologists and lab tests, fees for the recovery of the organ from the donor, surgery, follow-up care and testing, additional hospital stays for complications, anti-rejection and other drugs, which can easily exceed $2,500 per month and rehabilitation” (“Costs”). All of these factors add up to a tremendous amount of money that many Americans do not possess… Don’t you think the hospital should give patients a break from worrying about payment, especially after the tremendous amount of stress put on the body with surgery, and make these life-saving transplants free?
Most patients expect the expensive process to be over by now, but what they are unaware of is the thousands of dollars that will be spent every month on anti-rejection medication. Organ donation is such a delicate procedure with the potential for many complications, resulting in the patient losing their new organ. The preventive measures doctors take to ensure the new organs stay healthy is giving the recipient medications that are loaded with all the supplements, vitamins, and minerals to keep the body functioning properly. Some think the price would be like a regular prescription, typically under $100, “however, long term oral maintenance immunosuppression and other prescription medications can cost patients upwards of $2,500 per month depending on various factors including the number of prescription medications, insurance coverage, with the average annual cost of medications in the United States reported between $10,000 and $14,000 per patient” (James and Mannon). A minimum of $2,500 a month means $30,000 annually on medication. Using Medicare as an example, the company only pays for a designated amount of time. Tanya Saffer, the vice president of health policy for the National Kidney Foundation says, “the program halts payment for anti-rejection drugs after 36 months. That leaves many patients facing sudden bills.” The big question is what happens when the patient cannot afford the drugs after insurance no longer covers it? Unfortunately, it means they could lose the organ, restarting the transplant process from the beginning, acquiring all types of bills once again. Although, if the price of drugs was free or even reduced, many more people would have a better chance of survival.
On the other hand, if organ transplants were free, the hospitals would not be able to afford the cost of every patient. Hospitals make money off their patients and the procedures these patients acquire. Without the incoming source of money, hospitals would not be able to pay their doctors, resulting in doctors transferring to another facility with better pay. In the long run, the decline of healthcare can affect the patients, creating bad publicity. Although, if organ transplants were free, hospitals could be paid by the government. Samantha Liss writing for Healthcare Drive says, “the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chains have received about $2.2 billion, money they don’t have to pay back”. If these hospitals are receiving free money from the government, the most critical patient’s costs should be completely covered. Pro Bono surgeries would attract more business to hospitals overall increasing the income from other medical practices, despite the loss from extraordinary, expensive surgeries.
Now knowing the enormous amount of money it costs a patient to save their life through an organ transplant, have you changed your mind yet? If organ donation and transplant surgeries were free without the stress of surgeries, ICU bills, and anti-rejection medications costs, more people may consider organ donation which could potentially save hundreds of lives. Saving a life is a beautiful thing and should be done more often. Please sign up today and save a life one day, give your life additional meaning beyond your everyday experiences that some may not be able to have.
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