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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The 5 most costly healthcare procedures

rising healthcare costs
The cost of U.S. healthcare has steadily risen year-over-year since 2000

By Andrew Fujii

Regardless of your stance on the Affordable Care Act, there is no denying that healthcare in the United States is costly. Whether it is covering your premium or paying for a monthly prescription, you can expect to empty your wallet.

Luckily, our health insurance covers a substantial portion of ridiculously expensive procedures that otherwise would bankrupt most individuals. Even with these exorbitant costs covered, other expenses such as copays and deductibles can add up.

What happens if we take away health insurance? What would the bills of those costly medical procedures look like? Well, look no further. You’ll notice that the most expensive procedures involve transplanting organs.

1. Lung transplant - $657,800 double, $450,400 single

Lung transplants are extremely costly, especially if it involves a double lung transplant. If a patient’s lungs can no longer provide the function of exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide, there is a need for a lung transplant.

Patients who have end-stage lung disease are expected to only live two years and a prime candidates for lung transplants. These patients often require continuous oxygen and are typically fatigued from lack of oxygen. They become a transplant candidate when their lungs are too far gone for medical treatment and a transplant is the only surgery that will work.

Some of the typical diseases that can lead to lung transplant are Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, Interstitial Lung Diseases, Bronchiectasis, and Cystic Fibrosis.


2. Bone marrow transplant - $678,000 Allogeneic, $300,400 Autologous

Clearly there is some variation in terms of the price for a bone marrow transplant. Allogeneic is a bone marrow transplant using a donor’s marrow. Autologous uses your own bone marrow. These transplants very risky in nature and often involve complications post procedure.

However, with a bone marrow transplant, surgery may not even be needed. The transplant can be received by the patient in the form of a blood transfusion. In the fact the patient can undergo very little pain but the donor might experience intense pain during the harvesting of the marrow which can last up to weeks.

Diseases that call for a bone marrow transplant are blood related. This can include leukemia, thalassemias, aplastic anemia, sickle cell anemia, multiple myeloma, and some immune deficiency diseases.

3. Heart transplant - $997,000

Heart transplants are extremely high-risk surgeries that take an incredible amount of prep time and recovery time. Stints in the intensive care unit and follow-up procedures add to the costly bill of a heart transplant.  

Heart transplant candidates have hearts that no longer pump blood well enough to supply the body and organs with oxygen and nutrients. A smaller subset of heart transplant candidates have a bad electrical conduction system which determines the rate, rhythm, and sequence of heart muscle contractions.

Unfortunately for most patients in need of a transplant, there are simply not enough substitute organs. Even patients with end-stage heart disease might not qualify as candidates. Candidates must have other vital organs that are in good shape. Candidates also cannot have active infections such as cancer or diabetes. Smokers and alcoholics are also not highly considered due to their lifestyle choices and chances to relapse into those habits after their procedure.

4. Heart-lung transplant - $1,148,400

Heart transplants and lung transplants alone are incredibly risky. Now combine the two transplants into one surgery and you have one of the riskiest surgeries around. The procedure, if successful, also involved 180 days of post-surgery which alone accounts for $170,00 of the bill.

Candidates for heart-lung transplants have life-threatening damage to their heart and lungs. These patients typically have between twelve and twenty-four months to live.

Almost half of the patients that need a heart-lung transplant have a congenital problem. This means that they have had defects since birth that affect their heart and lungs. The next highest group of patients that make up heart-lung transplant candidates are those with pulmonary hypertension.

5. Intestine transplant - $1,206,000

An intestine transplant tops the list as the most costly medical procedure and for good reason. These transplants are done to replace dead tissue with healthy tissue. Usually this is due to disease or a tumor. The transplant itself can take up to an entire day to complete, followed up by intensive care.
Intestinal transplant candidates usually are those diagnosed with intestinal cancer, have irreversible damage from trauma, or some have gastro-intestinal infections that are severe in nature.

About the author: Andrew Fujii works in the healthcare industry and knows how expensive surgeries cost, even with insurance.

Image: Farcaster, GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0