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Medicare Rules Make Offsite Organ Recovery Costly

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, March 26, 2014

At Gift of Life, an organ procurement organization in Ann Arbor, 80% of the donors the center receives come from non-transplant hospitals. None of the city's transplant hospitals will allow organs from brain-dead donors to be recovered off site, says Richard Pietroski, CEO of Gift of Life.

At least four regional Medicare-certified organ procurement organizations — in St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Denver, and Ann Arbor— have established organ recovery centers to avoid time delays when surgeons from transplant recipients' hospitals arrive to remove organs from brain-dead donors.

Chicago's and Philadelphia's OPOs have similar efforts. Except for St. Louis, they're relying on non-transplant hospitals for all the donors that come to them for organ recovery. When organs become available in those cities, surgical teams must still travel to the hospitals where the donor originated to recover the organs.

Benefits of OPOs
The process is cheaper, OPO officials say, because the organizations can perform tests and services to keep the donor breathing at much lower cost than the donor hospital, saving Medicare money.

And OPOs are safer for medical teams, because they don't have to travel long distances to recover organs in unfamiliar hospitals. To date, accidents have killed at least 30 surgeons and transplant specialists rushing to retrieve and deliver organs for transplant. Finally, OPOs are more efficient, because recovery can happen on schedule, without wasting time or facility space.

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