Medicare will pay for a kidney transplant then expects you to die in 3 years. Bet you didn’t know that. According to the WSJ Health Blog, Medicare could save lives and money by making beneficial changes to the way they approve treatment but they choose not to.
Medicare’s three-year limit on payment for anti-organ-rejection drugs led to a woman needing a second kidney transplant, because she couldn’t afford to the medicine that would have allowed her to keep her first transplanted kidney in healthy, working condition. The cost of anti-rejection drugs for the patient? $1,000 to $3,000 a month. Cost of the second transplant? $125,000. The average Medicare expenditure per kidney transplant patient care is $17,000 yearly, while it’s $71,000 a year for dialysis patients and $106,000 for a transplant, according to the Times.
According to the NY Times, Melissa Whitaker found herself in a Medicare conundrum.
Ms. Whitaker, 31, who describes herself as “kind of a nerd,” has Alport syndrome, a genetic disorder that caused kidney failure and significant hearing loss by the time she was 14. In 1997, after undergoing daily dialysis for five years, she received her first transplant. Most of the cost of the dialysis and the transplant, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, was absorbed by the federal Medicare program, which provides broad coverage for those with end-stage renal disease. By late 2003, her transplanted kidney had failed, and she returned to dialysis, covered by the government at $9,300 a month, more than three times the cost of the pills. Then 15 months ago, Medicare paid for her second transplant — total charges, $125,000 — and the 36-month clock began ticking again. “If they had just paid for the pills, I’d still have my kidney,” said Ms. Whitaker
So rather than paying $1000 – $3000 per month for anti-rejection meds beyond the arbitrary 36 month limit, Medicare in their infinite wisdom put her back on dialysis, approved a second transplant, and started her on a new 36 month plan.
The most recent report from the United States Renal Data System found that Medicare spends an average of $17,000 a year on care for kidney transplant recipients, most of it for anti-rejection drugs. That compares with $71,000 a year for dialysis patients and $106,000 for a transplant (including the first year of monitoring).
This reminds me of Jay Leno’s question to Hugh Grant following Hugh’s incident with a transvestite hooker. “What were they thinking?”