UnitedHealthcare Will Reimburse Kidney Donors' Travel Expenses, Expanding Life-Saving Access to Kidney Transplants

June 13, 2016
  • Initiative aims to save lives, improve quality of life and drive down the costs of care by helping more people with late-stage kidney disease obtain a kidney transplant

UnitedHealthcare will pay travel expenses for kidney transplant donors, addressing one of the major barriers to living organ donation.

The announcement was made yesterday at the 2016 American Transplant Congress in Boston by Jon Friedman, M.D., chief medical officer for Optum’s Complex Medical Conditions programs. Optum is the health services company that manages transplant services for UnitedHealthcare. Both companies are collaborating with the American Society of Transplantation (AST) and American Society of Transplant Surgeons (ASTS), which hosted the congress, to improve outcomes, reduce costs and enhance the experience of donors and recipients.

UnitedHealthcare will be the largest health plan to directly reimburse living donors, from the start of their evaluation process, through follow-up visits two years post-donation. The donor does not need to be enrolled in a UnitedHealthcare plan to qualify for reimbursement.

“Many healthy people are eligible to donate a kidney, yet only one-third of kidney transplants come from living donors,” said Friedman, who has clinical oversight and responsibility for transplantation and chronic and end-stage kidney disease for Optum. “This initiative will make it easier for living kidney donors to provide a life-saving gift to patients and their families.”

According to the AST, 96 percent of kidney donors experience donation-related financial consequences.

Starting in 2017, UnitedHealthcare will reimburse up to $5,000 toward lodging and travel expenses for living kidney donors. The travel reimbursement will be offered on top of existing coverage of medical expenses associated with a kidney transplant for both the recipient and the living donor.

While the need for kidney transplants continues to increase, the number of donor kidneys falls far short of demand. In 2015, only about one in five people on the kidney transplant waiting list received a transplant, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). Living donors are the best source to increase the pool of kidneys available for transplantation.

“The American Society of Transplant Surgeons applauds UnitedHealthcare and Optum for taking this significant step toward reducing the financial barriers to living organ donation, and we look forward to working with them and other partners to make it possible for everyone who wants to donate an organ to do so,” said Charlie Miller, M.D., president of ASTS.

James Allan, M.D., president of the American Society of Transplantation, added: “UnitedHealthcare and Optum’s efforts to address the issue of late-stage kidney disease are significant. We hope this is only the first step as our health care system works to remove financial and other barriers to organ donation.”

UnitedHealthcare plans will reimburse lodging and travel expenses for the kidney donor and a companion, starting with the donor’s initial evaluation to determine suitability, through follow-up evaluations up to two years after donor surgery. The travel reimbursement, up to $5,000, will be available for all donors whose intended transplant recipients are enrolled in UnitedHealthcare fully insured plans as of the new policy year, Jan. 1, 2017.