How Much Does a Pancreas Transplant Cost?

Written by: Staff
Last Updated:  August 15, 2018

A pancreas transplant is a surgical procedure performed to implant a healthy pancreas into a person in need, most often performed with someone who has diabetes or someone who has severe kidney disease.  In some cases, a kidney transplant may be carried out at the same time.  This healthy pancreas usually comes from a person who has recently died or can be a partial pancreas from a living donor.

Surgery by Army Medicine, on Flickr
Surgery” (CC BY 2.0) by Army Medicine

How much does a pancreas transplant cost?

The cost of a pancreas transplant, including all the preliminary testing, will vary on the geographical location and the hospital performing the transplant.  The total costs can be as high as $175,000 to more than $300,000 without health insurance.  A transplant will be covered by a health insurance policy, but some may have restrictions such as using their preferred transplant center.

Transplant Living notes, after all of the testing, surgery and recovery process, the average cost for a pancreas transplant can be $289,400.

What is going to be included?

The costs mentioned above will include the pre-transplant testing, the testing, surgery, fees for recovery for the donor, the follow-up care and additional hospital stays if complications were to occur.  Also, depending on the hospital’s billing policy, it may also include the anesthesiologist, radiologist, surgeon and physician fee.

Pancreas transplant overview

Before the surgery is even considered, a doctor will run a string of tests to make sure this is your only option.  If so, you will be referred to a transplant center and added to a national waiting list.  According to the National Kidney Foundation, the average patient can wait up to 400 days.

During the procedure, you will be put under a general anesthetic and a small incision will be made in your stomach. The donor pancreas and the donor kidney, if you’re having a kidney transplanted at the same time, will be placed inside and attached to the blood vessels and bowel.  Right away, the new pancreas will start to produce insulin and the old pancreas will be left in its original form to continue to produce the important digestive juices after the transplant is complete.

The surgery will take up to six hours and can take up to 14 days to recover.  Patients may need to stay at the hospital for up to three weeks to monitor their recovery.  Most patients can resume regular activities after two to three months.  Depending on the progress, the surgeon team will be able to offer guidance on how long it will take since each procedure will be vastly different

What are the extra costs?

All the fees noted in the inclusions may be billed separately.  Since each hospital will have its own billing policy, it’s important to get an itemized bill ahead of time to know what you’re going to be charged for.

Anti-rejection drugs, after the transplant was performed, can easily cost $2,500 per month.  You will need to take these medications, known as immunosuppressants, for the rest of your life.  Failing to take this medicine will allow your body to recognize your new pancreas as a foreign object and it will be being to attack it, something known as rejection.

After the procedure, patients will have to continue follow-up appointments to monitor the progress.

Food, airline tickets and lodging need to be considered if you have to travel to the hospital.  This can be fairly common with transplants since the donor could live away from your primary residence.

Tips to know

After a pancreas transplant, 97 percent will live at least a year, while close to 90 percent will live at least five years.  Those who have had both a kidney and pancreas transplant at the same time found that after one year, it was still working and 75 percent were still working after five years.

Since this transplant is considered a risky procedure, complications may include a rejection from the body since the immune system will recognize it as a foreign body; blood clots forming in the blood vessels; inflammation after the transplantation; or side effects of the medication of the procedure such a high blood pressure or osteoporosis.

Can you live without a pancreas?

The pancreas will have two functions: it will secrete insulin, which will help control your sugar levels, and it will also help digest enzymes and hormones.  These functions can be replaced with insulin injections and oral pancreatic enzymes with meals.

While it’s rare, some surgeries may remove the pancreas completely and will only be done for those who have a pancreas that isn’t working 100 percent.  Usually, those who have type 1 diabetes will have a pancreas that stops producing insulin but will continue to create digestive enzymes.  With cystic fibrosis or chronic pancreatitis, however, the production of both insulin and digestive enzymes can be impaired.

How can I save money?

Most insurance companies will cover the cost of a pancreas transplant as long as it’s deemed medically necessary.  Medicare says the procedure will be covered if it’s done at the same time as a kidney transplant or after a kidney transplant.  In rare cases, however, it may be covered if you don’t need the kidney transplant.

Some hospitals may offer low or free housing options for families who meet income requirements.

If you’re comfortable, investigate clinical trials to see if you can become eligible for one.  If you’re accepted, you may pay a lower cost or nothing at all.

Becuase of the high costs, most hospitals will have financial counselors readily available to help you explore options on ways to pay for your transplant.

Paying in cash or via a credit card can lead to a higher discount if you were to haggle with the hospital.  While the main surgery bills could be hard to pay in cash, this could be done with the smaller bills such as the anesthesiologist and/or surgeon fee.

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