Gift of Life vs. Cause of Death…

Sadly, we have been surrounded by talk of death for nearly a year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 3.19million people died in the U.S. in 2020, quite a bit more than the 2.85 million in 2019, and at 9.7 deaths per 1,000, last year was the highest rate since 1949. Pre-pandemic, the Census Bureau did not project this level of deaths until 2029.

The medical community has been very careful not to conflate the world of medical examiners and the organ donation industry. Notwithstanding that there are nearly 110k people on organ transplant lists according to the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), or that there are approximately 500k unexplained deaths each year that require some level of post-mortem examination, it has been a third rail issue to directly link the two worlds. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has delicately concluded that organ donation has not meaningfully compromised autopsy evidence, and therefore, subsequent criminal proceedings.

It is hard to make money with death. There are no billing codes for autopsies. Hospitals typically extract from the Medicare Part A basket for a “variety of services” which includes autopsies. In fact, hospitals are not obligated to provide autopsy services nor are they typically reimbursed by private insurance or Medicare. Notably, CMS determined in 1986 that autopsies were not considered “patient care” and therefore, would not be covered. The average cost of an autopsy ranges between $3,000 – $5,000, but can be as much (Read more...)