UnitedHealth to pay for kidney donors' travel costs

Two doctors conducting surgery

UnitedHealth will reimburse up to $5,000 in travel and lodging expenses for kidney transplant donors, a move that could encourage more donations and in turn, save insurers money if it reduces how long patients have to wait for a kidney.

United will be the largest payer to directly reimburse living donors from the start of the evaluation process through follow-up visits two years after donating, the company said in an announcement. Other insurers including Aetna, Cigna and Anthem also cover some donation-related expenses, the Associated Press notes.

Demand for kidney transplants far outpaces supply, the United announcement points out. In 2015, only about 1 in 5 people on the kidney transplant waiting list received a transplant, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. That may be because, according to the American Transplant Congress, 96 percent of kidney donors experience donation-related financial consequences.

“Many healthy people are eligible to donate a kidney, yet only one-third of kidney transplants come from living donors,” Jon Friedman, M.D., chief medical officer for Optum’s Complex Medical Conditions programs, said in a statement. “This initiative will make it easier for living kidney donors to provide a life-saving gift to patients and their families.”

A donor does not need to be enrolled in a United plan to qualify for travel/lodging reimbursement, but the intended transplant recipients must be enrolled in a fully insured United plan as of the new policy year starting Jan. 1. The travel/lodging reimbursement will be offered on top of existing coverage of transplant-related medical expenses for both the donor and the patient.

The Obama administration, meanwhile, announced Monday several key steps it’s taking to reduce the waiting list for organ transplants, including a $160 million public-private investment in a new Advanced Tissue Biofabrication Manufacturing Innovation Institute; a data-sharing collaboration between 30 transplant centers; and new tools and public advocacy campaigns to increase the options and ease of registering to be an organ donor.

To learn more:
- read the United announcement
- here’s the White House’s fact sheet (.pdf)
- here’s the AP article