‘Wallet biopsies’ common for organ transplant candidates

A hospital’s suggestion that a Michigan woman raise $10,000 before being considered for a heart transplant fueled outrage last month, but that situation isn’t all that uncommon, according to a Dec. 5 story from Kaiser Health News.

“It happens every day,” Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the New York University Langone Medical Center, told KHN. “You get what I call a ‘wallet biopsy.’”

The case of 60-year-old Hedda Martin, of Grand Rapids, made headlines after viral social media posts of the hospital’s denial letter, which recommended she raise money to afford anti-rejection drugs. The publicity appeared to pay off, as Martin’s son started a GoFundMe page that quickly exceeded the $10,000 target suggested by Spectrum Health’s Heart & Lung Specialized Care Clinics.

According to KHN, there are several more formal fundraising organizations that help people raise money to afford medication copays and other costs associated with receiving new hearts, lungs and kidneys. But even that approach fails for a substantial chunk of patients, and some never receive the organs, which are in short supply.

Because transplant centers want to ensure the limited number of available organs are implanted with a high success rate, it makes practical sense to determine whether candidates can afford the necessary follow-up care, which usually isn’t fully covered by insurance. But that doesn’t make their decisions any easier to swallow for those who need lifesaving transplants—and many people are perturbed that financial factors weigh so heavily into the equation.

“It may be a source of anger, because when we’re looking for organs, we don’t like to think that they go to the rich,” Caplan said. “In reality, it’s largely true.”

Read the full story from KHN below: