What does dialysis and a kidney transplant cost?

I had an email through the week from a thirty-something mum looking down the barrel of kidney failure and dialysis over the next couple of years. In addition to coming to terms with the illness that is causing her problems, she needed some practical information about the finances of treatment.

“What is the cost !! of both Dialysis and a transplant (should I be lucky enough)?”

Like everything else that happens as we move down this path, we tend to learn about it when we need to know, but with the BigD, it’s not easy to find answers.

The Costs of Dialysis

In the private system, each health fund tends to negotiate a payment per haemodialysis treatment with each dialysis centre or company. For example, health fund A may have agreed to pay Diaverum centres $220 per session, while health fund B may pay Baxter $190 per session. As long as you have the cover, you get the treatment. However, many health insurers limit the number of treatments to three per week. Others will allow more, but only on your doctor’s recommendation/request.

The best thing to do is to contact the centre(s) you may be attending and ask them. Then confirm your cover, etc with your health fund. In each case, you are not usually out of pocket. It is also worthwhile asking about the extras that the centre provides (food, TV, internet, etc).

Obviously, if you go to a satellite centre associated with a public hospital, treatment is free. Or if you choose to dialyse at home (or you live far away from dialysis centres) the government covers the costs, including the machine, its installation, plumbing, etc and your training.

The Cost of a Kidney Transplant

With kidney transplants, costs vary per country, and are in the tens of thousands of dollars (or pounds or rand, etc.) But in most cases they are done at public hospitals and the cost is covered by the national government. In the US, kidney transplants are covered by Medicare; in the UK by the National Health Service, in Australia by Medicare, etc. The cost is roughly equivalent to the cost of dialysis for a year, so a successful transplant is a good deal for health authorities.

You can also have a transplant via the private system is you have the coverage (or the money).

I had mine at a public hospital, The Austin Hospital in Heidelberg, Melbourne. I much prefer the public system, and not just because of the price. In the public system, the support network is wide. You and your transplant team can tap into the latest skills and experience from transplant teams around the country and the world. Medical staff are available onsite most of the time and the higher volume of transplants means they have seen most problems before. My transplant teams stopped at nothing in getting my transplants working, and the care was excellent.

Also, many public hospitals are happy for you to elect to be a private patient within the public system, in which case you get your choice of doctor with the added benefits listed above and costs are usually rebate only.

(So, in most countries, it’s not the cost that’s the problem, rather the availability of donor kidneys – but that’s another post.)

Next week: some of the stats of the BigD: how many, what demographics, life expectancy, etc.

6 thoughts on “What does dialysis and a kidney transplant cost?

  1. In the UK the transplant org says regarding cost effectiveness that the cost benefit of kidney transplantation compared to dialysis over a period of ten years (the median transplant survival time) is £241,000 or £24,100 per year for each year that the patient has a functioning transplanted kidney. In 2007-08, 2,282 people received a kidney transplant. These transplants are now saving the NHS £46.1m in dialysis costs each year for every year that the kidney functions.

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    • Hi DF. Thanks for taking the time to share these figures. Transplants are absolutely the way to go, and not just for the recipients. I’m sure it’s the same in most countries, as long as the donors keep coming. That of course is the problem: how to lift donations. There are ways, but we need to think outside the box. I will write about this more in my next post.

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  2. Pingback: 2010 in review | Big D and Me

  3. Hi!

    I would like to ask if a permanent resident in Australia had a kidney problem requiring transplant, how much does he need to pay if he is under public health insurance? Is there a difference for in benefits for foreign residents and nationals of Australia?

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    • Hi Mark. For permanent residents, all transplant costs are covered by Australia’s national health system, Medicare. So in the public system, transplants are free. This only applies to permanent residents. Visitors from a country that has a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement with Australia are also eligible for medically necessary treatment. But I don’t think this includes transplants. Regards, Greg

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