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Cost of procuring organs varies widely

The price of procuring organs for transplants varies wildly for no clear reason, said a researcher who found that charges to obtain kidneys ranged from $682 to $87,629 each in 1988.

"Whenever you have that kind of variation, it leads you to ask why," said Roger W. Evans, the Mayo Clinic researcher and author of a report in today's issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

"The idea here is, very simply, "What are the charges? Are they reasonable? Why is there such variation? How can we control that variation? And by doing so, can we make transplantation more cost-effective?' " Evans said Tuesday.

He analyzed 28.7 percent of all U.S. transplants in 1988, the latest year for which prices for all organs were available from procurement agencies.

In many cases, the price on a patient's hospital bill was much greater than what an organ procurement agency charged, Evans said.

Some transplant hospitals marked up procurement costs by 200 percent before billing patients, said Evans, head of health sciences research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. His report didn't name hospitals.

Evans studied procurement because it has twice gotten attention from the inspector general's office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which found a "disturbing" escalation in spending to obtain kidneys.

Most of the nation's kidney transplants are funded through the Medicare program, so the federal government keeps tabs on procurement of kidneys.