As the need for donated kidneys continues to rise in the United States, at least one health insurance company has stepped up to help meet that tremendous need.
When UnitedHealthcare announced that it will cover travel and lodging expenses for kidney donors, it came as welcome news to kidney patients. Starting in 2017, UnitedHealthcare pledged to fund donors’ travel expenses up to $5,000.
Living donors are seen as the best source to increase the number of kidneys available for transplantation. Yet they currently account for a small proportion of donations.
"Many healthy people are eligible to donate a kidney, yet only one-third of kidney transplants come from living donors," said Dr. Jon Friedman, chief medical officer for complex medical conditions programs at Optum.
Why aren’t more people volunteering to help? Numbers suggest one of the largest barriers is the expense borne by the donor. According to the Society of Transplantation, 96 percent of kidney donors suffer some sort of financial loss as a result of their donation.
UnitedHealthcare’s announcement that they will cover donors’ expenses could encourage more people to donate live organs.
For kidney disease patients, receiving a kidney from a living donor may double the functioning time of the kidney, with kidneys from live donors lasting anywhere between 15 to 20 years. This compares to patients who receive kidneys from deceased donors that tend to last between seven to 10 years.
For both insurers and patients, a transplanted organ is cheaper and more effective in the long run than dialysis. Patients who receive a kidney from a living donor have better chances of long-term and higher quality kidney function.
The Chronic Disease Coalition applauds UnitedHealthcare’s decision to include costs borne by living kidney donors and hopes other insurers will follow suit.