Why All of the Talk About Incentives?
Kenneth A. Newell, MD, PhD, Emory University School of Medicine – AST President
Last summer, the ASTS and the AST held a workshop to discuss the financial barriers faced by living organ donors. All of us who are engaged in the practice of living donor transplantation realize that the entire healthcare delivery system (providers, hospitals, insurers, and the government), as well as the recipient and society as a whole, benefits financially from the practice of living donation. Disturbingly, the donors are the group most at risk for adverse financial events. In many cases, donors incur expenses related to travel, meals, and lodging, as well as lost wages. In addition to these concrete financial consequences, living donors also face very real concerns about the loss of employment and the impact their donation will have on future insurability. Programs such as the HRSA-funded National Living Donor Assistance Center (NLDAC) provide critical support to those donors with the most extreme financial need, but this support is limited to travel and travel-related expenses.
The aim of the first meeting was to explore whether the AST and the ASTS could articulate a common vision on the topic of financial disincentives and incentives as they pertain to organ donation. The two societies agreed to work to remove all financial disincentives to organ donation, and consider pilot projects to study what some might consider to be true incentives. These ideas are more fully articulated in a New York Times editorial authored by Daniel Salomon and Alan Langnas, as well as in a manuscript in the American Journal of Transplantation titled "AST/ASTS Workshop on Increasing Organ Donation in the United States: Creating an “Arc of Change” From Removing Disincentives to Testing Incentives."
As a second step, representatives of the two societies met last month in Minneapolis to discuss how the goals articulated at the first meeting could be operationalized. Presentation topics included the perspective of payers, overviews of NOTA and NLDAC, and consideration of how changes to NOTA could be effected. Attendees discussed where the societies might draw the line between the removal of disincentives and the provision of true incentives for living organ donation, and how an expanded program to remove all disincentives for all living donors might be administered (assuming that funding could be obtained). This second meeting focused almost entirely on the removal of financial disincentives with the goal of making the donor financially whole. This position was recently advanced by the AST Best Practices in Living Donation Consensus Conference. At this second meeting, there was little discussion about incentives or pilot projects to test the impact of true incentives, as these are more controversial and will require substantially more effort and time to engage a broader set of transplant stakeholders. In other words, both the AST and the ASTS agreed that the task of operationalizing the original workshop’s ideas must be strictly pragmatic and start with those changes that are largely agreed upon now: removing all disincentives.
So why all of the talk about incentives (and disincentives)? Because any changes to the current financial practices of organ donation will require the AST and the ASTS to engage in ongoing discussions with a larger set of stakeholders: patient groups, transplant professionals, government leaders, and society as a whole. Any changes must have the support of these groups as well as our membership, and any changes must meet the real needs of patients, donors and their families.
Over the next several months, the AST will reach out to our membership and these other groups to discuss the removal of financial disincentives, the definition of true incentives, and the challenge of possibly testing incentives in pilot projects. The conversation starts here: please share your opinions in the comment section.