ProPublica, those lovely folks who published several articles some time back on workers’ comp, are at it again.
This time, they are focusing their ire on how foreign patients are getting liver transplants at some US hospitals ahead of Americans waiting for such transplants.
The story, published yesterday, was co-published with a local Fox station in New Orleans.
From 2013 to 2016, New York-Presbyterian Hospital gave 20 livers to foreign nationals who came to the US solely for a transplant, essentially exporting the organs and removing them from the pool of available livers to New Yorkers.
Dr. Herbert Pardes (I was familiar with his name from living in NY), wrote that, “Patients in equal need of a liver transplant should not have to wait and suffer differently because of the U.S. state where they reside.”
Dr, Pardes was the former chief executive, and is now the executive vice president of the board at New York-Presbyterian.
Yet, according to the story, Dr. Pardes left out NY-P’s contribution to the shortage, as stated above from 2013 to 2016.
These 20 livers represent 5.2 percent of the hospital’s liver transplants during that time, which was one of the highest ratios in the country.
ProPublica reported that unknown to the public, or to sick patients and their families, organs donated domestically are sometimes given to patients flying in from other countries, who often pay a premium. Some hospitals even seek them out.
A company from Saudi Arabia said it signed an agreement with Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans in 2015.
The practice is legal, according to the story, and foreign nationals must wait their turn in the same way as domestic patients. The transplant centers justify this on medical and humanitarian grounds, but at a time when we have an Administration touting “America First”, this may run counter to the national mood.
The director of the transplant institute at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, Dr. Sander Florman, said he struggles with “in essence, selling the organs we do have to foreign nationals with bushels of money.”
Between 2013 and 2016, 252 foreigners came to the US purely to receive livers at American hospitals. In 2016, the most recent year for which there is data, the majority of foreign recipients were from countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Israel and the UAE. Another 100 foreigners staying in the US as non-residents also received livers.
At the same time, more than 14,000 people, nearly all Americans, are waiting for livers, a figure that has remained very high for decades, they report. By comparison, fewer than 8,000 liver transplants were performed last year in the US, an all-time high. National median wait time is more than 14 months, and in NY, the time is longer.
In 2016. more than 2.600 patients were removed from waiting lists nationally, either because they died or were too sick to receive a liver transplant.
All this is happening at a time when the party in power is seeking to take health care away from those who recently received care for the first time in a long time from the ACA, and at a time when the medical travel industry is focused not on transplant surgeries, but on boutique treatments and surgeries for wealthy or upper middle class Americans to go abroad for bariatric, plastic or reconstructive surgery, knee surgery, dental care, etc.
And yet, when the very idea of medical travel is broached in the medical community, it is disparaged and discouraged by physicians and others as unsafe, impractical, and not worth the effort, Obviously, it is well worth the effort on the part of foreign patients to come here and take organs meant for Americans, so why not allow Americans to take their organs?
Is it because the hospitals that supply these organs to foreign patients are making huge sums of money, and the poor schnook American with liver disease (or kidney disease, as in the case of yours truly) must die so that an American hospital can improve its bottom line?
It is high time to cut the crap and promote medical travel the right way and for the right reasons, not only for those who can afford it, but those who need transplants and can’t get them here.
That is the true nature of the globalization of healthcare…a two-way street.