No Cash, No Organ Transplant: Patients Must Prove They Can Pay Enormous Bills
(KQED) – When Patrick Mannion heard about the Michigan woman denied a heart transplant because she couldn’t afford the anti-rejection drugs, he knew what she was up against.
On social media posts of a letter that went viral last month, Hedda Martin, 60, of Grand Rapids, was informed that she was not a candidate for a heart transplant because of her finances. It recommended “a fundraising effort of $10,000.”
Patrick Mannion received a double-lung transplant in May 2017 after being diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive, life-threatening lung disease. Through a transplant fundraising organization, HelpHopeLive, he has raised nearly $115,000, twice the original goal to help pay expenses that insurance didn’t cover, including copays for costly anti-rejection drugs.
Two years ago, Mannion, of Oxford, Conn., learned he needed a double-lung transplant after contracting idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive, fatal disease. From the start, hospital officials told him to set aside $30,000 in a separate bank account to cover the costs.
Mannion, 59, who received his new lungs in May 2017, reflected: “Here you are, you need a heart — that’s a tough road for any person,” he said. “And then for that person to have to be a fundraiser?”
Martin’s case sparked outrage over a transplant system that links access to a lifesaving treatment to finances. But requiring proof of payment for organ transplants and post-operative care is common, transplant experts say.
“It happens every day,” said Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the New York University Langone Medical Center. “You get what I call a ‘wallet biopsy.’”
Virtually all of the nation’s more than 250 transplant centers, which refer patients to a single national registry, require patients to verify how they will cover bills that can total $400,000 for a kidney transplant or $1.3 million for a heart, plus monthly costs that average $2,500 for anti-rejection drugs that must be taken for life, Caplan said. Coverage for the drugs is more scattershot than for the operation itself, even though transplanted organs will not last without the medicine.
For Martin, the social media attention helped. Within days, she had raised more than $30,000 through a GoFundMe account, and officials at Spectrum Health confirmed she was added to the transplant waiting list.
In a statement, officials there defended their position, saying that financial resources, along with physical health and social well-being, are among crucial factors to consider.
“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,” officials wrote.
In the most pragmatic light, that makes sense. More than 114,000 people are waiting for organs in the U.S. and fewer than 35,000 organs were transplanted last year, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS. Transplant centers want to make sure donated organs aren’t wasted.
“If you’re receiving a lifesaving organ, you have to be able to afford it,” said Kelly Green, executive director of HelpHopeLive, the Pennsylvania organization that has helped Mannion.
Read the full story at kqed.org