If you donate a kidney, you’ll save a life — but will you put your life insurance at risk? As in, could you have trouble changing a life insurance policy, or have trouble getting it, if you’ve given away one of your kidneys?
It’s an interesting, very troubling question that has cropped up in the media over the years. The New York Times wrote about it in 2012 — and Reuters recently covered the topic this summer, and unfortunately, there is some evidence that that may be the case. For instance, a new study out of John Hopkins looked at 1,000 people who had donated a kidney between 1970 and 2011, and of those, 25 percent of them had difficulties getting or changing life insurance policies.
The very idea, admittedly, made me sick. You don’t want to think an industry that you’ve been giving your heart and soul to, doesn’t have a heart or a soul.
But I did start feeling better when I realized that some critics of the study have pointed out that there’s nothing in the study about when the attempt to buy or change a life insurance policy was made. There could be someone in that study who donated a kidney in 1975 and then attempted to get a life insurance policy in 1996 and was denied for some reason that had nothing to do with a singular kidney. Maybe that kidney donor, who was really healthy in 1975, wasn’t doing so hot 21 years later?
And I felt even better after consulting Troy Zimmerman, vice president for government relations at the National Kidney Foundation.
“We don’t believe this occurs on a typical basis, and when it does, it seems more likely to be a premium issue rather than outright denial of coverage,” Zimmerman says.
Still, he added, rightly so, that if it happens at all, that’s troubling — and just the mere perception that it might be happening is troubling. “Even a small number of donors experience an adverse impact with coverage is detrimental to donation,” Zimmerman says.
He’s right. Granted, plenty of people aren’t going to think twice if they can give up a kidney to save their child or a parent or a spouse. But somebody thinking of giving up a kidney for a co-worker or stranger — and you do read about that happening — might suddenly pause if they worry that what they’re about to do could somehow later financially jeopardize their own loved ones.
And what’s really ominous. According to what The New York Times wrote back in 2012, in 2006, a study conducted by NATCO, the Organization for Transplant Professionals, an advocacy organization for transplant professions concluded that as many as 39 percent of eligible donors decided not to donate because they were afraid of future insurance problems. The survey information that NATCO put out doesn’t say, but my guess is that people were probably more afraid of health insurance problems than life insurance, but either way, that’s troubling.
And I admit, I initially thought that maybe the media was making too much out of this because I imagined that most donors were older people with families who likely had life insurance. But Zimmerman says that last year, there were about 6,000 living kidney donations in the country, and of them, 1,846 were between 18 and 34, 2,440 were between 35 and 49 years of age, and 1,583 of them were between 50 and 64. There were only 120 donations from people over 65 years of age.
So most kidney donors are pretty young and just about all of them are of the age where they may well have not gotten life insurance yet, or may need to renew or change a policy.
Fortunately, as Zimmerman said, the problem with kidney donors not getting life insurance doesn’t seem to be too significant.
So, look, if anyone is reading this and considering giving up a kidney to someone in need, I hope you won’t be discouraged from donating. What you’re thinking of doing is very admirable. I tip my hat to you. Seriously.
And if you work for an insurer, and you’re reading this, and in the unlikely instance where your company does discriminate against donors, you have everything backwards. Instead of shying away from them, you should be going to the kidney donors to ask if they have life insurance, and if they don’t, you should be trying to get them to sign up.
After all, insurers tend to be happiest when they cover people who seem like they’re going to be around a long time, and as Zimmerman says, “living donors tend to be healthier than the overall U.S. population… They go through an extensive medical examination before they are deemed appropriate to donate.”
And Zimmerman points out, “Decades of kidney donation have illustrated the increased risk of kidney failure isn’t significant.”
In fact — I looked it up — kidney transplants have been successfully going on since the 1950’s. “Certainly some donors eventually could develop kidney disease and possible failure, but that’s true of anybody, simply as part of the aging process,” Zimmerman says.
In fact, Zimmerman wryly adds, the life insurance industry could learn something from the kidney donation industry.
Oh? How so?
The medical exam that people undergo before donating a kidney, Zimmerman says, is far and away more thorough than the one everyone gets when they apply for life insurance.
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