National kidney transplant and waiting list data through the end of 2012 are now available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the situation for those unfortunate patients on the growing waiting list for a kidney transplant has never been more grim.
Here are the depressing facts:
1. There were only 16,845 kidney transplant operations performed in 2012, a decrease of 328 from the 16,813 operations in 2011, following a decrease of 86 operations from 2010 to 2011. Fewer kidney operations were performed last year than in any year since 2005.
2. While the annual number of kidney transplant operations has remained relatively flat since 2005 in a range between about 16,500 and 17,000, the number of registered patients on the waiting list continues to increase (see chart). From about 65,000 registered patients in 2005, the waiting list for a kidney transplant has increased 46% and by 30,000 patients to the 95,000 patients who were on the waiting list at the end of last year (see chart above). Since the first of the year, another 500 patients have joined the waiting list, bringing the current total (as of March 8) to about 95,500 registered candidates.
3. In 1988, there were fewer than two patients on the waiting list for a kidney for every transplant operation performed, and there are now 5.8 patients per operation. Stated differently, in the late 1980s the number of transplant operations represented more than half of the number of patients on the kidney waiting list. Last year, the number of transplant operations represented only 18.5% of the number of patients on the waiting list.
4. In 2012, there were 4,100 registered candidates who died while waiting for a kidney (more than 11 per day), and another 2,700 candidates were removed from the list because they became too sick to survive a kidney transplant operation.
Bottom Line: The situation for those with renal failure waiting desperately to receive a kidney continues to worsen every year under the current policy that prohibits any form of donor compensation. The only realistic, long-term and truly compassionate solution to address America’s worsening kidney shortage is to legalize some form of donor compensation. That would require Congress to amend the outdated National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 so that people who give kidneys could receive a benefit, perhaps a tax credit, tuition voucher, lifetime health coverage or a contribution to a retirement plan.
We know from basic economic principles that congestion, shortages, and surpluses are always caused by a failure to apply market pricing. The market for kidneys is no different in principle than the market for crude oil, Justin Bieber tickets, old coins, soybeans, or unskilled labor. Because the demand for kidneys exceeds the supply by a factor of almost 6 times under the current policy, it seems obvious that the deadly kidney shortage is artificially created because the current “price” of $0.00 for kidneys is way below the market-clearing price. The current system of kidney allocation that relies exclusively on altruism is obviously not working, and thousands of patients needing a kidney transplant will continue to die every year until some type of market pricing is allowed.