Organ Donors Shouldn’t Be Penalized

It can be challenging to find an organ donor for someone who needs a transplant. But when a donor and desperately sick person are matched up, living donors should not be “punished” for their gift, especially by the health insurance industry.

This is a little-known aspect of the health care debate that should be brought to light — the fact that there is nothing that prevents health insurance companies from either denying coverage or charging higher premiums to those who donate an organ by categorizing them as people with “pre-existing conditions.”

This lack of regulation makes it potentially difficult for donors to get health insurance after giving the gift of life.

Here is my story. I met Dan Krinsky and his wife in 2000 when they opened their restaurant in our neighborhood. My husband and I loved their wonderful cooking and over the years we bonded and became good friends.

Shortly after hearing in 2008 that he had developed polycystic kidney disease I ran into Dan at our local taco stand. I could see instantly he was deathly ill and needed a kidney transplant, I told him then and there I would give him one of mine.

Of course even though I was serious, I wasn’t sure I was a match.

But on July 14, after two days of extensive medical tests, I was pronounced 100 percent healthy and able to donate a kidney to my friend

There was a long silence at the other end of the phone when I told Dan that I had been approved to give him a kidney. He could hardly find words to express his gratitude, amid his relief that after two years on the transplant list and a year on dialysis, the wait for a healthy organ was over.

Yet the very next day I was given good reason to rethink my decision when I read a report in the Los Angeles Times that despite my perfect health, donating a kidney could put me at risk for being denied health insurance or charged more because insurers may consider organ donation a “pre-existing condition.”

Deterring potential donors from giving the gift of life is deadly business. According to the National Kidney Foundation, demand for kidneys far outstrips supply.

More than 80,000 people are waiting for a kidney, of which about 4,500 die each year. Living donation rates have declined recently, with only about 6,000 donations last year.

By threatening potential donors with a lifetime of increased premiums health insurance companies have stooped to a new low of corporate self-interest. For them, the profit motive clearly reigns supreme.

Whatever health-care reform is enacted, we need to ensure that all Americans, including living donors, are not charged higher premiums or denied coverage by insurance companies for having pre-existing conditions.

The National Kidney Foundation’s “End the Wait” Campaign includes additional proposals to protect living donors as part of a broad array of recommendations to increase donations, improve transplant outcomes, and improve the transplant system throughout the country.

Steadfast in my promise to Dan to give him a kidney, I have redoubled my fight to protect organ donors and ordinary Americans from discrimination by health insurance companies. It’s past time we put a stop to these abuses.

McClure, an Atlanta attorney and the founder of VoteHealthcare.org, successfully donated a kidney to Dan Krinsky in August. This op-ed appeareed previously in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

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10 replies »

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  2. Dear Kathie Mcclur
    After reading your blog I feel intrigued about the situation you and many other americans find themselves in.
    I was born in London and have lived her all my life so don’t know the difficultie that the everyday American faces when it comes to health.
    It’s stories like yours we don’t know about over here in England. I’m a training theatre-maker here in London and we are doing a piece in autumn based on the american healthcare system. I truly believe theatre can be as much a political firecracker as protesting.
    I believe it’s been a brave move for you to share your struggle on the internet and I was wondering if you would be willing to take it a step further and allow me to interview you on your struggle with the health system, what you want and expect as an American citizen from your own country.
    If you feel me to be intruding I scincerely apologize that is not my intention. I merely wish to hear your story and use it to create awareness where there is none. However if you are interested to share your story with me and other theatre makers please contact me on Naomiackie@hotmail.co.uk and I would be honoured to interview you on what you go through as an American citizen.

  3. It is definitely true. I donated the right lobe of my liver to try and save my mother’s life back in 2002 at Columbia Pres. Hospital in NY. I was never told by anyone on the staff about possible problems with health insurance. For years I have been paying over $300 more a month for coverage than if I didn’t have that pre-existing condition. Granted I did have two more operations for complications from the liver operation in the following 8 months. Columbia did pay for most of the cost of those operations, but my doctor did charge my health insurance at the time. I was also told by both my doctor and the coordinating nurse not to be expected to have the hospital cover me for “all my health issue in the future.” I told them if it was related to the organ donation operation, I thought they were morally obligated to do so. I guess they felt every extra penny they had to spend on my followup complications was taking away from their profit margin of the original charge they received for the original operation which was between 400 and $500,000 thousand dollars. I was also told by their billing dept. that I was the only one that had ever had major complications from one of their liver donor operations. I think they should be proud of that statistic, although they did not include me on the research study about longterm complications from donors that they were a part of the following year. I guess they just forgot.

  4. We already know that health insurance companies charge women higher premiums for their coverage than they charge men. I suppose that means that women who donate organs will be further punished by their insurance carriers.
    Did you know, however, that America still doesn’t believe that little girls are worth as much as little boys? And old women are worth less than old men?
    It’s difficult to believe but even today boys get on the UNOS kidney transplant list before girls who need kidneys. The same applies for old men who get on the transplant list before old women. It’s true. And there is no medical reason for it, but rather sexism. Ethic Soup blog has an excellent post on this at:
    http://www.ethicsoup.com/2009/04/life-death-sexism-fewer-girls-women-on-kidney-transplant-list.html

  5. Hey… I was really not aware about the fact that one who is a organ donor… is being charged more by the insurance companies… now just by going through your article… my thgis concept about the health insurance is cleared at a certain extent… thanks again..!!

  6. In a single-pay system there would be no penalty for donors. Chime in here Nate and tell us why it’s necessary for insurance companies to rate organ donors as having pre-exisiting and why they should be expected to shoulder the burden of increased insurance risk.

  7. Yes, donors can be denied not only health insurance but life and disability insurance. These issues are nothing new. Thanks to the LA Times and the most recent article in the Austin Statesman, some of these issues are coming to light. In addition, some donors have had to either use their own health insurance or pay out-of-pocket for complications related to the donation. The number of donor advocates/activists is increasing–giving more donors support in order to speak out about these issues.
    Thanks for blogging–time for insurance industry reform. If we save the insurers (including Medicare) money, denying insurance to us should be illegal.

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