Funding Life – The Financial Hurdles of Organ Donation and Transplantation

Funding Life – The Financial Hurdles of Organ Donation and Transplantation

In April, we celebrate Donate Life Month, an annual event to raise awareness about organ donation, encourage more Americans to register as donors, and honor those who have already changed lives through their donations. The procedures made possible through organ donation and transplantation are life-changing and in many cases lifesaving. 

At any given time, there are over 100,000 Americans awaiting transplants. In addition to a lack of donors, and therefore a shortage of viable organs, the financial costs associated with receiving this gift of life are staggering. This can be a limiting factor both for transplantation centers and individuals in need of transplants. 

As the CEO of Nevada Donor Network (NDN), I have seen firsthand how these financial setbacks can cause our current model to fall short in filling the overwhelming demand for organ donation and transplantation. Let’s discuss how the industry could use collaboration, philanthropy, and public funding to give the gift of life and health to those so desperately waiting. 

What are the hurdles? The high cost of healthcare in our country is no secret. Without good insurance coverage, it’s nearly impossible for the average patient to cover the cost, as well as the affiliated expenses of highly involved procedures like organ donation. 

For example, an individual in need of a liver transplant might not live close to a transplantation center that offers that procedure. This means to receive the care they need, they will have to relocate for a significant period of time, substantially adding to their out-of-pocket expenses, not to mention discomfort. 

Also, as it stands, all transplantation centers in the US are under the governance of a parent institution (hospital, hospital system, or university). This dependence on parent organizations results in funding shortages that often lead to missed transplantation opportunities and the inability to fully fulfill the need for their services in their community.

How can we overcome these obstacles? While the organ donation and transplantation industry has seen much success over the last seven decades, it’s time for change that addresses some of the systemic and financial shortcomings that are still highly relevant. 

Over the past few years, the NDN has been working to develop the Nevada Transplant Institute (NTI), an independent, nonprofit organization that will merge the capacity of Nevada’s entire transplant-related system with adequate resources under one coordinated umbrella. The institute will be fueled by philanthropy, which will help to address the lack of funding for individual transplant centers due to their parent organization’s budgetary limitations. By diversifying revenue sources, this new collaborative network will also allow individuals to receive the gift of life no matter what their insurance plan, household income, or socioeconomic status. 

What else is being done? While the NTI directly impacts Nevadans, the concepts on which the institute is built aim to change the future of the healthcare industry. In addition to the work being done in the non-profit sector, recent government initiatives will also help to improve the organ procurement and transplantation ecosystem. 

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) stated in a recent press release, “The President’s Fiscal Year 2024 Budget proposal [aims] to more than double investment in organ procurement and transplantation with a $36 million increase over Fiscal Year 2023 for a total of $67 million.” These additional funds will modernize current systems, which will allow providers to better serve those in need. 

In addition to this huge influx of funding, there will also be changes made to the nearly 40-year-old National Organ Transplant Act. These revisions will allow the governing body of the organ procurement and transplantation industry (OPTN) to better allocate resources and foster innovation and competition within this sector of our healthcare system.

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