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.