Lifewatch: Kidney transplants

Reported by Claire Hosmann - bio|email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

(WECT) - 400,000 people in the United States are living with kidney failure and many are waiting for a transplant.

Since 1973, medicare has fully covered the cost of kidney transplant surgeries, regardless of age, but the rules are different when it comes to paying for the medications to keep the new kidneys from failing.

Angel Rodriguez got a new kidney in April from his wife.  To prevent his body from rejecting the transplanted organ, he takes medications to supress his immune system.  They are essential and expensive.

"$10,000-$15,000 a year for the medications and those medicines have to be taken every day permanently," said Nephrologist, Dr. David Roth.

A huge concern for the parents of 3-year-old Justin Miranda, who got a transplant last year.  He takes 9 different medications everyday.

"He is one of four children. Nonetheless that we have an economic crisis right now, I imagine three years from today, two years from today cause he's been on medication already a year, it definitely would be a problem," said Justin's father, Jamie Miranda.

Dr. Roth calls this healthcare policy penny wise and pound foolish.  Keeping a donor kidney from failing by paying for medication, costs much less than another transplant or dialysis which medicare fully covers.

"Lose a kidney, which is a scarce resource and we have so many people waiting for kidneys. To lose a kidney because of that is even more upsetting," said Roth.

Doctor and patient groups have been unsuccessfully fighting this policy for years.  Now, in the new House healthcare bill there is a provision to cover these drugs indefinitely.