High on the list of ways to encourage living donation (after educating people about living donation, of course) is to make the experience financially neutral. That is, not that live donors earn money for their organs (though some experts have made a case that that actually might be done efficiently and fairly)–only that no one lose money in trying to save someone’s life (I think we can all agree on that part).
Well, guess what? A major source of aid, the federally funded National Living Donor Assistance Center, says that about 70% of U.S. households meet its income requirements to apply for living-donor financial aid.
If you already know that the recipient’s insurance (including Medicare) covers the donor’s evaluation and surgery (and some major insurers now cover travel expenses), you might wonder why a donor would need additional financial assistance. Let’s consider all the things that often need to be in place for someone to donate–apart from a clean bill of health and matching-related issues.
1–What if a donor lives hundreds or even thousands of miles from the recipient’s transplant center? Transportation and lodging expenses for a few days of evaluation plus surgery and post-op time can add up pretty quickly. They can easily be a deal breaker.
2–What if a potential donor doesn’t have paid sick leave? Two to four weeks lost pay for recovery plus time off work for evaluation tests and appointments can be prohibitive. So, covering lost wages is crucial.
3–And what if the donor needs to pay for childcare or eldercare for those weeks? That could clearly tip the balance, so reimbursement of dependent care expenses is right up there too.
Fortunately, not all donors require all three of those essentials. Back when I donated to my son in 2006, we were lucky that the transplant center was right in our town, I had sufficient paid leave between my own plus my colleagues’ kind shares, and we had no dependent care expenses.
But for people who do, any one of those factors could nix the idea for donors who are otherwise eligible. Such expenses can run into several thousand dollars. Happily, NLDAC grants, usually in the form of a prepaid credit card, are sizeable: up to a total of $6,000 per donor.
You can download guidelines and application forms from the NLDAC website. Funds are available only for those donors who have no other reimbursement options, be it insurance, state or federal funding, or (for me, this is the part that still rankles) the recipient’s funds. Both donor and recipient must provide income and asset information, but the recipient’s matters most. I guess the assumption is that recipients “should” reimburse their donor if need be.
True, if a recipient doesn’t meet the guidelines but says he or she can’t afford to reimburse the donor, there’s a hardship exception, requiring more paperwork. In other words, at a time of ill health, lost wages, and great family stress, the recipient is expected to prove that he or she can’t help the donor. Shouldn’t the donor’s income be the major factor if we want “to reduce the financial disincentives to living organ donation” (per NLDAC’s mission statement)?
NLDAC has been a major source of financial assistance for nonmedical aspects of donation for many years. Until late 2020, that assistance was mostly limited to travel and lodging, so as a donation advocate, I certainly applaud the major expansion.
NLDAC needs to get the word out so more potential donors can take advantage of this much-needed additional assistance. I’m happy to help. Please do pass it on!
For related posts and information on my new book, The Insider’s Guide to Living Kidney Donation, be sure to explore the rest of my website.