According to OrganDonor.gov, each day in the United States, about 80 people receive an organ transplant. There are currently over 116,000 people on the national transplant waiting list. Organ transplantation is often a life-saving surgery. If you or someone you love has had a transplant surgery, it definitely makes you think about your own mortality and the importance of life insurance.
Mortality Risk of Organ and Tissue Transplantation
There are several different types of transplant surgeries with very different implications. Mortality risk varies not only by the type of organ or tissue transplanted, but also the reason why the transplant is needed. For example, someone who required a kidney transplant due to trauma will have a better life expectancy over someone who required the transplant due to chronic kidney disease.
Some organs can be donated via a living donor or a deceased donor. However, how the organ was donated can have an effect on mortality risk. Living organs tend to give better survival rates than cadaver organs and a living organ from someone related to you will have the highest success rate.
Types of Transplants and How They Affect Buying Life Insurance
Bone Marrow Transplant
Unlike other major organ transplant procedures, bone marrow transplantation involves infusion of bone marrow cells into the circulation of the recipient, rather than surgical replacement of an organ.
There are two methods of bone marrow transplantation:
- Autologous transplantation is the use of the recipient’s own stored cells.
- How it works: Doctors remove stem cells from your body and store them. After the diseased or cancerous cells in your body have been destroyed by treatment, your stored stem cells are transplanted back into your body.
- Allogeneic transplantation utilizes bone marrow cells from another person.
- How it works: If your own blood cells are too diseased to be harvested and stored, stem cells are collected from a donor whose tissue closely matches your own.
The advantages and disadvantages of each type of method are the same, but opposite. I’ll explain. With an autologous transplantation, there is no risk of graft-versus-host disease (when donated white blood cells attack your healthy cells) because they are your own cells. However, an autologous transplantation does not have graft-versus-tumor benefits. This is when the white blood cells from the donor attack your diseased cells.
Bone marrow transplants are used to treat diseases such as leukemias, lymphomas, aplastic anemia, immune deficiency disorders, and some solid tumor cancers. The disease you were diagnosed with will have an effect on how you’re underwritten for life insurance. In most cases, applicants with a history of bone marrow transplantation will be Table Rated. This means that while you may be approved for coverage, because the risk to insure you is greater than an insurance carrier’s typical standards, you’ll have to pay extra.
Learn more about table ratings here: What Are Table Ratings? What Do They Mean?
Corneas are the most common transplant worldwide with over 40,000 surgeries performed each year in the U.S. Corneal transplantation is relatively safe and comes with a high success rate – over 90 percent.
When it comes to applying for life insurance with a history of corneal transplantation, the reason why you needed the surgery and the outcome are the two main determinants. Not only is it possible for applicants to be approved for standard rates, but a Preferred rating is possible for individuals who have had no complications and are otherwise healthy.
A heart transplant is only performed after medical treatment or, in the case of ischemic heart disease, coronary artery bypass surgery have failed. Although a heart transplant can save your life, it comes with many risks. These risks include:
- Rejection of donor heart
- Problems with your coronary arteries
- Side effects from immunosuppressants such as kidney damage (immunosuppressants make the body less likely to reject the donor heart and are required to be taken the rest of your life)
- Cancer – because immunosuppressants reduce the strength of your body’s immune system they can increase your chances to be diagnosed with a life-threatening disease
- Infection – your body’s weakened immune system makes it harder to fight infections
Because of the extremely high risks involved with a heart transplant, the majority of all applicants who have had this operation will be declined for life insurance coverage.
If you or someone you love has had a transplant surgery, it definitely makes you think about your own mortality and the importance of life insurance.
According to the Mayo Clinic, liver transplant is usually reserved as a treatment option for people who have significant complications due to end-stage chronic liver disease. As with a heart transplant, a liver transplant also requires you to take immunosuppressants for the rest of your life.
Livers can be obtained from living or deceased donors. In living donors, up to 65% of the liver is removed for transplant. The human liver regenerates and returns to its normal size shortly after surgical removal of part of the organ. For applicants who donated a liver, as long as liver function returned to normal and you are otherwise healthy, you should not have any issues getting life insurance coverage.
For the majority of applicants who have had a liver transplant, most life insurance companies will decline you for life insurance coverage. Some companies may consider a table rated offering on an individual basis if applicant has excellent quality of life and it has been at least ten years since the operation.
A lung transplant is reserved for people who have tried other medications or treatments, but their conditions haven’t sufficiently improved. Depending on your medical condition, a lung transplant may involve replacing one of your lungs or both of them. Like both liver and heart transplants, the biggest risks of a lung transplant are organ rejection and complications from the immunosuppressant medications.
Unfortunately, because of the high risks associated with a lung transplant, the majority of all applicants who have had this operation will be declined for life insurance coverage.
Renal (Kidney) Transplant
Kidney transplantation has become the most common and most successful of the major organ transplantation operations. The body can function perfectly well with one kidney, which is why living donors are not unusual with kidney transplants.
As with other major organ transplants, there is risk of rejection and chance of complications from immunosuppressants. However, failure rate with kidney transplants is much lower when compared to lung and heart.
Kidneys from live donors as opposed to cadavers produce a better outcome, and ideally the kidney would come from a close relative. The one year survival rate of the recipients of renal transplants from living donors is 97% and 94% from cadaver donors.
Life insurance coverage is very attainable for those who have had a kidney transplant. While a Preferred rating isn’t likely, Standard is possible for applicants under the age of 50 and if their donor was from a living person (ideally a relative). If under the age of 50 and donor was a cadaver, a flat extra may be added on. A flat extra is an additional fee to help cushion the risk an insurer takes. If an applicant is over the age of 50, a table rating is likely. All applicants are closely evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
A pancreas transplant is most often done for individuals with Type 1 diabetes with end-stage renal disease.
There are three types of pancreas transplantation:
- Simultaneous pancreas kidney transplantation (SPK)
- Most common type of pancreas transplant
- Both kidney and pancreas are transplanted at the same time
- Pancreas after kidney transplantation (PAK)
- Pancreas is transplanted a short time (typically within months) after a kidney transplant
- Pancreas transplant alone (PTA)
- This treatment is reserved for those people with diabetes that have early or no kidney disease
According to the Mayo Clinic, pancreas rejection rates tend to be slightly higher among PTA recipients. SPK transplants have the best survival rate, but wait time for patients is longer since you’re waiting for two organs versus just one.
In addition to organ rejection and immunosuppressant complications, pancreas transplant risks also include:
- Blood clots or bleeding
- Urinary complications, including leaking or urinary tract infections
Unfortunately, for the majority of applicants who have had a pancreas transplant, most life insurance companies will decline you for life insurance coverage. However, individual applicants are evaluated on a case-by-case basis and if enough years have passed since the transplant and applicant has shown no signs of complications, there are life insurance companies that will consider offering coverage.
Buying Life Insurance with a Transplantation History
The best advice we can give in regards to applying for life insurance with a transplant history is to work with an independent life insurance agency. Independent agencies have contracts with multiple life insurance companies. Not all life insurance companies view certain risks in the same light, so your chances of getting coverage are higher if you have access to multiple companies.
Here at Quotacy we work with multiple A-rated life insurance companies and can help you get life insurance. Our insurance experts and in-house underwriter know the ins and outs of the insurance companies and will work hard to find you coverage to financially protect your loved ones. Start the process by getting a free term life insurance quote today.
Photo credit to: Aditya Romansa
About the writer
Writer, Editor, and Co-host of Quotacy's Q&A Fridays
Natasha is the content manager and editor for Quotacy. She has been in the life insurance industry since 2010 and has been making life insurance easier to understand with her writing since 2014. When not at work, she's probably studying and working toward her Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) designation while throwing a tennis ball for her pitbull mix, Emmett, or curled up on her couch watching Netflix. If it’s football season, the Packers game will be on. Connect with her on LinkedIn.