Selfless acts shouldn't be punished by high medical bills


I would like to think of myself as the kind of person who would donate my kidney for a family member or loved one who desperately needed it. And I would like to think that decision wouldn't be bogged down by insurance coverage considerations since I would be undergoing a selfless act to help improve another person's health and quality of life. Unfortunately, based on a recent article, I may be living in a fantasy world.

I am a freelancer, so I don't have healthcare coverage from my employer. If I wasn't married or if my husband also lacked large employer-sponsored health insurance, I wouldn't just be facing weeks of physical recovery after this act of goodwill, I would also be tackling the enormous medical bills I incurred.

That's because people who have individual insurance policies or coverage through a small business may run into a large hurdle when donating a part of their body to someone else--insurers often claim that organ donation is a pre-existing condition and, therefore, refuse to cover certain services related to the surgery.

Although only the healthiest people are approved for organ donation, they need regular medical follow-up to ensure they remain healthy. Kidney donors, for example, require regular blood pressure monitoring and diabetes testing. However, insurance companies often only cover a few months of such follow-up care, even sometimes denying coverage of prescription medications or medical services related to any post-surgery complications. 

This is no small problem in healthcare today because denying coverage could discourage organ donations, which in the case of kidney donation would leave those in need on expensive dialysis treatment much longer, thereby increasing overall health costs. There are 110,000 Americans waiting for an organ transplant; if potential insurance woes prevent healthy people from donating an organ, the negative consequences could spread pretty quickly throughout the healthcare system.

While I'm happy to see a light at the end of the tunnel coming next year when the health reform law requires that everyone has health insurance, I think that's only part of the problem. The real issue is why were insurers ever denying necessary treatment to people undergoing such selfless and fundamentally humane acts? If health payers ever want to overcome the profits-over-people stereotype, they need to stop making such seemingly callous and heartless denials of coverage. In addition to increasing their public image, providing coverage to organ donors saves money and I know we can all agree on that goal. - Dina

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