Stories about organ donation and life-saving transplants have become commonplace in the news, in television shows, and throughout social media, and for good reason — organ transplants save lives and give those with end organ disease a fighting chance.
However, we rarely hear about what life is really like for people after they receive a transplant. Organ transplantation is a medical miracle but receiving a transplant is just the beginning of a recipient’s journey.
The true cost of daily medication
After receiving a transplant, recipients must take immunosuppressive medications indefinitely to prevent their body from rejecting their transplanted organ. They must take these medications daily (and often more than once a day) to avoid losing the organ.
There are more than 113,000 people currently on the U.S. organ transplant waiting list. On average, 20 people die each day waiting for a transplant. The need for one person to receive multiple organ transplants due to organ rejection only adds to the growing waiting list. To prevent the loss of this precious resource, we must prevent organ rejection.
The insurance obstacle
Getting insurance to cover the necessary medications after a transplant is a significant hurdle for many recipients, as the medications are expensive and, in some cases, not covered by their insurance. Some kidney recipients on Medicare Part B can lose coverage for their anti-rejection medication just 36 months after their transplant, even though transplant recipients need to take this medication for the rest of their lives.
Recipients are frequently unable to afford their medications once their Medicare drug coverage lapses and, unfortunately, they are often forced to begin reducing their medications or forego them altogether. This leads to unnecessary failure of the transplanted kidney, which can lead to another transplant, dialysis, or death.
The American Society of Transplantation is working with Congress to extend coverage of immunosuppressive medications beyond the current 36-month limitation set for Medicare Part B patients.
Dianne McKay, M.D., President, American Society of Transplantation, [email protected]