Families soon find that in addition to their child’s illness, they face another harsh reality, a financial one. The health crisis is compounded by the need to figure out quickly how to pay for a chance to save your child’s life. BMT is not only one of the most drastic medical procedures a person can undergo, but is also among the most expensive.
According to the federal Agency for Health Quality Research , bone marrow transplantation–with a mean hospitalization charge of $207,622 in 2003–was the 3rd most costly of the top-10 most expensive medical procedures performed in US hospitals. The costs to families, even those with health insurance, are an ever-increasing challenge. There are some avenues of help in covering some of the costs, but accessing them may require specialized information and much persistence. Thus we aim to provide here basic information and tips on handling the financial side of BMT.
BMT Cost Basics
It is important to know upfront an expected estimate of expenses, both medical and non-medical. Families should ask for cost estimates when they first contact a transplant center. Some transplant centers may not routinely share that information until after the patient arrives for the first consultation.
You may have already started to address these issues, particularly if your child has been undergoing treatments for months or years prior to transplant.
We will start by looking at the typical expenses involved in a BMT, followed by suggestions of possible means and/or resources to help cover them. A more in-depth discussion of coverage of the medical expenses is contained in the topics on Insurance and Uninsured Children.
Donor Search and BMT-Workup Fees
As mentioned previously regarding the donor search process, fees vary by facility and coverage varies by insurance plan. Donor expenses are the responsibility of the recipient and his or her insurance company. There is an annual listing of Unrelated Donor Search & Other Pre-Transplant Costs for BMT centers in the NMDP network available to the public. Please remember that while the data was current at the time of publication, you need to check with the BMT center for the most up-to-date fees. Some financial assistance may be available for these expenses.
Hospital charges for BMT
BMT costs are very high, and increasing. In 2002, the Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration of the US Dept. of Health and Human Services quoted a figure of $300,000 as a typcial cost for a BMT from an unrelated donor. By late 2006, acccording to data from United Resource Networks that was shared with members of the Association of Oncology Social Work ‘s BMT Special Interest Group [Autologous Stem Cell Transplant: Patient and Caregiver Costs, AOSW BMT SIG News, December 2006: 4 (4), p. 5, citing data from United Resource Networks,Transplant Network, 1/1/2000- 3/7/2005], families could expect fees for an unrelated donor transplant–the transplant itself in the hospital, excluding post-BMT care given on an outpatient basis–to be about $530,000 or more, while autologous transplants average $225,000, and those from a sibling donor fall somewhere in between this range, for all cell sources. Generally the fees are higher for unrelated transplants due to additional donor search and testing costs, plus procurement fees for the stem cells to be transplanted. The greater risk of complications with BMT from an unrelated donor can mean longer periods of hospitalization, and related need for more medications, tests, and treatments, which all contribute to greater expenses.
BMT Cost Calculator Tools
The NMDP website now includes a Planning for Transplant Costs section, which includes calculator tools for estimating all the expenses that your family will incur for a BMT, with links to related topics.