Organ transplant program may favor wealthy over most needy, reports finds

Story highlights

  • New report finds that patients who need a heart transplant join additional wait lists with shorter waiting times
  • But experts worry that patients who join multiple lists could delay the time that other patients have to wait for a life-saving transplant

(CNN)It is no surprise that patients who are on a wait list for an organ transplant -- generally in dire health -- would want to have their names on wait lists at as many transplant centers as possible.

But a new report raises questions about whether this practice of multiple listing is taking organs away from patients with lower incomes who might not be able to bear the cost of traveling to other transplant centers out of their area.
Researchers at Columbia University used data from the United Network for Organ Sharing, a nonprofit organization that manages the organ transplant system in the United States.
    From 2000 to 2013, the study looked at the 33,928 patients on heart transplant wait lists; 24,633 on lung transplant wait lists; 103,332 on liver transplant wait lists; and 223,644 on kidney transplant wait lists. Of those candidates for heart, lung, liver and kidney transplants, 2%, 3.4%, 6% and 12%, respectively were on more than one wait list.
    The researchers were troubled to find that, at least for heart transplant candidates, the extra lists that they joined had shorter wait times.
    The median wait time for a new heart was 105 days for the second list, compared with 151 days for the original list. They have not yet looked at how wait times for the other organs (liver, lungs, kidneys) compared between the original and secondary lists.
    "Multiple-list patients migrate to centers with shorter wait times," said Dr. Raymond Givens, an advanced heart failure and transplant fellow at Columbia University Medical Center. "The concern is that they are essentially delaying the transplant of someone who has lower priority at the (second) center."
    Givens is the lead author of the study, which was presented on Monday at the American Heart Association annual meeting and not yet peer reviewed or published in a scientific or medical journal.