Kidney Transplant Out of Reach for Illegal Immigrant

The New York Times recently reported on the plight of an illegal immigrant in his early 30s whose citizenship status is preventing him from receiving a kidney transplant. His case, the news source said, demonstrates the complications that arise when the nation’s immigration laws intersect with its byzantine healthcare policies.

The immigrant in need of the transplant, identified by the Times as Angel, fell ill suddenly in 2010. He received emergency surgery and has since been undergoing routine dialysis, which as an “emergency procedure” is paid for by Medicaid in New York. However, because an organ transplant is not considered an emergency procedure, Angel has no way to pay for the operation to receive his brother’s kidney.

Dr. Eric Manheimer, the medical director at Bellevue Hospital, where Angel has been receiving treatment, told the Times that the “ultimate irony” is that the government will finance a lifetime of dialysis, which at about $75,000 a year is both more expensive and less effective a treatment than the $100,000 one-time organ donation.

Angel has explored various avenues in his quest to have the operation performed. One of his bosses at the restaurant where he works attempted to secure private insurance to finance the surgery, but because Angel’s kidney ailment is a preexisting condition, the policy would not have covered his dialysis or the cost of the transplant for the first year. Certain surgeons have agreed to waive their fees, but hospital administrators have been unwilling to allow the surgery to go forward given the costs that will not be covered.

If Angel and his brother return to Mexico for the operation, where it is less expensive, they would most likely have to sneak back across the U.S. border afterward to rejoin their family, including their children, who have U.S. citizenship.

In another recent case demonstrating the wrenching decisions that must sometimes be made when issues of immigration and healthcare coincide, a 23-year-old immigrant in Arizona collapsed and went into a coma, suffering from heart failure just days before his work permit arrived in the mail. Yet because he did not have legal citizenship status, he could not be kept on life support in the hospital, and his wife was faced with the decision of putting him in hospice care – which she could not afford – or having him transported to a hospital in Mexico.