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The Financial Implications of Donating a Kidney

Mark Zimmer, Director of Finance, National Kidney Registry

Most people become kidney donors because they want to help people—money may be the furthest thing from their minds. However, becoming a kidney donor does have some important financial implications. Here’s what you need to know.

Can I get paid to donate a kidney? No. It is illegal to sell or purchase an organ in the United States, as it is in most countries. However, while direct financial compensation for kidney donation is illegal, there are many financial assistance programs available to cover the medical expenses and related costs associated with living organ donation.

How much does it cost to become a kidney donor? Ideally, donating a kidney should cost the donor nothing. In most cases, all medical expenses related to the donor’s evaluation, surgery, and post-operative care are paid by the recipient’s insurance, the recipient’s family, the transplant program, or a combination of the three. Other financial assistance programs can provide reimbursement for out-of-pocket costs, such as transportation, accommodation, and dependent care, that are not covered by insurance.

What if I lose income because I took time off work to donate a kidney? Kidney donors usually have to take off between one and six weeks for tests, surgery, and recovery. To help offset any lost wages resulting from that time off, the National Kidney Registry’s Donor Shield program offers lost wage reimbursement up to a maximum of $2,000 per week for up to six weeks. You do not have to use short-term disability or any of your own vacation or sick time to take advantage of this assistance—you can keep that time to use for your future personal needs. Learn more about Donor Shield lost wage reimbursement.

What about other kidney donation-related out-of-pocket expenses, like travel, accommodations, and childcare? The most comprehensive financial assistance program available to kidney donors is Donor Shield, which reimburses eligible kidney donors for donation-related expenses (meaning expenses incurred as a direct result of testing, surgery, or recovery) for travel, lodging, meals, and dependent care for both children and adult dependents of the donor. The maximum reimbursement for travel, lodging and dependent care costs combined is $6,000. Learn more about Donor Shield travel, lodging, and dependent care reimbursement.

Are reimbursements for kidney donation-related lost wages and expenses taxable? Any funds received as reimbursement for lost wages are considered income and are therefore subject to taxes. Reimbursements for donation-related expenses such as travel, lodging, and dependent care are not taxed: they are not included in your taxable income and you do not have to report them on your tax return.

Will donating a kidney affect my health insurance? Some potential kidney donors may wonder if their health insurance premiums will go up as a result of donating a kidney, or if they may even be refused coverage. Technically, your health insurance should not be affected by kidney donation. According to the Affordable Care Act, it is illegal for health insurance companies to refuse to cover you or charge you more because you have a pre-existing condition, including having been a kidney donor. However, there have been cases when donors have reported having difficulty getting health insurance or facing higher premiums. Donors protected by Donor Shield have access to free legal support to fight health insurance discrimination directly related to kidney donation. Learn more about free legal support for kidney donors.

Does donating a kidney affect life insurance? Living donor life insurance discrimination is unfair, and in more than half of U.S. states, it is illegal. While your life insurance should not be affected by donating a kidney, some donors have experienced denied coverage or higher premiums solely due to their kidney donation. If you attempt to purchase life insurance and are denied coverage or are quoted an inflated price due to your status as a living kidney donor, Donor Shield offers free legal support to help you fight insurance discrimination related to kidney donation and can provide access to reasonably priced insurance. Learn more about free legal support for kidney donors.

If you have any financial questions about kidney donation, it’s important to thoroughly discuss the financial implications of your donation with your transplant center and medical team. Many transplant centers have social workers or financial coordinators who can help donors navigate the financial aspects and provide information on available resources and support.