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Getting Ready for an Organ Transplant

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Handling the Financing of an Organ Transplant continued...

Insurance coverage for an organ transplant varies widely. But one thing's nearly certain, says Marwan Abouljoud, MD, director of the Transplant Institute at Henry Ford Hospital System in Detroit: Most patients will have some issue about insurance.

Abouljoud counsels patients to work closely with their center's transplant team, particularly the social worker and financial coordinator, to figure out the funding sources.

Typically, the transplant center officials tell you what is covered by your insurance. Once you find out what part of the bill insurance covers, be aware there are other potential sources of coverage. Medicare, for instance, is available to those aged 65 and above, those who are disabled, or those who have end-stage kidney disease.

You can also check with your state's insurance commissioner to see if any plans might help out. For instance, certain people, even with pre-existing health conditions, can qualify for high-risk pools. Be aware that the premiums are higher than other plans and the coverage typically more limited. You can ask about guarantee issue plans, available in some states. These require insurers to offer coverage to individuals even with pre-existing conditions.

In addition to the direct medical costs, an organ transplant is associated with other expenses, such as lodging if you are traveling away from home to a transplant center, your lost wages if you have been working, airplane costs if you are traveling to a center, and extra child care fees if you have young children.

To cover these nonmedical costs, as well as some of the uncovered medical expenses, you can check out various charitable and advocacy groups, such as the National Transplant Assistance Fund or the American Kidney Fund. A lengthy list of organizations is posted at the consumer web site maintained by UNOS, called "Transplant Living."

If you decide to take the fund-raising into your own hands, sponsoring a car wash or asking for donations from your church or temple members, for instance, get advice first about legalities from your transplant team and your accountant. Different city and county regulations come into play, and the money you raise may be counted as taxable income, perhaps affecting your eligibility for assistance programs.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Organ Transplants

Even if you've tended to your mental, physical, and financial preparation, it's common to have a lengthy list of questions about your organ transplant.

One of the most common is how much advance notice you'll get that an organ has been found.

The answer varies by organ, says Abouljoud, who performs liver transplants. For liver organs, he says, you may typically get a call from the hospital two or three hours before they expect you there. For kidney transplants it may be between 24 to 30 hours' notice. But in general, how soon the transplant team expects you depends on a number of factors, including your health condition.

Other questions that are often asked include:

  • Can you describe the risk of organ transplant as well as the benefits?
  • Can you explain how organ transplant waiting lists work?
  • Can you tell me the success rates for my particular organ transplant and age group?
  • How many transplants does the transplant center I am going to do each year? (New federal guidelines require centers, with rare exceptions, to do an average of 10 a year to maintain federal funding.)
  • How long is the waiting list for the organ I need at the transplant center I picked?
  • What is the one-year survival rate at your center for this type of transplant? How does it compare with the national average? (National averages are posted at the web site maintained by the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, called "U.S. Transplant.")
  • How many surgeons are available to do my type of organ transplant?
  • How long do I stay in the hospital after the transplant?
  • May I travel, or do I need to stay within a specific distance of the center at all times?
  • What follow-up tests will be needed and for how long?
  • What are the odds I will need to return to the hospital?
  • May I have a tour of the center?
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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Thomas M. Maddox, MD on July 12, 2012

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