The University of Chicago Medicine has become the first transplant center to contribute to the Illinois Transplant Fund (ITF), a new not-for-profit that provides financial support for organ transplants to qualified uninsured residents of northern and central Illinois and Northwest Indiana. The medical center's initial $100,000 donation will be followed by additional contributions of up to $400,000 total over the next three years.
UChicago Medicine's initial contribution to the ITF is a call-to-action for other academic institutions, businesses and members of the community to support the fund as well.
"We are very excited to make this program a reality. This will allow us to transplant these patients safely and provide the care and medications they need long-term," said Yolanda Becker, MD, professor of surgery and director of the kidney and pancreas transplant program at the University of Chicago Medicine. "This isn't just about the University of Chicago -- I encourage all of our partners throughout the state to lend their support to this deserving population."
Despite recent improvements after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, 11.9 percent of the U.S. population remains uninsured. Illinois has approximately 500,000 non-citizens with no access to publicly funded insurance programs who are effectively denied access to organ transplants.
The uninsured population includes disproportionate numbers of minorities as well. Hispanics make up 30.4 percent of uninsured Americans; nearly 13.6 percent of the uninsured population is black. Nevertheless, these groups are vital participants in the organ donation community. Reports showed a 300 percent increase in the number of Hispanic first-person organ donors after non-citizens gained access to Illinois driver's licenses in 2014.
However, continued lack of access to receive transplants could lead to a decline in participation by this important segment of the population, hurting those waiting for transplant as well as the entire transplant community.
The ITF provides financial assistance for organ transplants in the form of insurance premium support to qualified patients in need. ITF has established the Transplant Insurance Premium Program (TIPP) that serves as a "last resort" for financial assistance and enables eligible patients to obtain health insurance coverage for up to 36 months.
"We are grateful to the University of Chicago Medicine for taking this important step to improve the health of the community," said Beverley L. Ketel, MD, chairman of the ITF Board and University of Chicago Medicine alumna. "This program offers hope for some who are tethered to costly and time-consuming dialysis. Kidney transplant surgery is often the best way to help give them their lives back."
While much of the initial focus is on minority transplant candidates, people from all backgrounds are eligible for TIPP funding. An applicant must first be accepted on the organ transplant listing at a transplant center in Illinois. The applicant must have lived in central or Northern Illinois or Northwest Indiana for a minimum of three years and demonstrate financial need by having income below 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold. Applicants cannot be eligible for any other financial insurance subsidy or government insurance program and must demonstrate continued eligibility annually.
The ITF was granted 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status on June 26, 2015. The initial 11-member board of directors is made up of physicians, health care advocates and business leaders in the local community. For more information about the fund, please go to http://www.