Today the Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek announced a radical pilot program to offer living donors a six-week wage to reduce financial pressures during the recovery phase of the major surgery.

Living donors will be offered cash grants up to $3,600
Donors must have a job and employers will distribute payments over six weeks
Paid leave scheme will be offered for living donors offering kidneys and parts of their liver

AUSTRALIA will pay living organ donors a six-week wage of up to $3600 to donate a kidney in a bid to slash the waiting lists for surgery.

This program is hardly a windfall gain for willing donors, but the potential savings of public funds is huge. With kidney dialysis costing between $50K and $80K per year and upwards of $12 billion in total when considering the full treatment of the end stage disease, the potential savings of a six week holiday for a handful or mass of donors is astronomical.

Currently, about 11,000 Australians are receiving ongoing dialysis, whilst there are only about 825 kidney transplants per year. The immediate savings of getting everyone away from dialysis is about a billion dollars per year, but the overall savings of a comprehensive transplant program would make significant inroads into the overall $12 bill.

Initially, the program appears to be targeting about 1000 donors, which is pretty small beer. However, the temptations for a government in a big financial pickle to go the whole hog are huge. A reasonable estimation of the broader savings of a comprehensive transplant might be in the order of 25% of the current aggregate, or about $3 bill per year. This is against an aggregate cost of the 6 week holiday program of only about $40 mill. (Assuming the program transaction costs could be well assimilated within the remaining $9bill of annual cost, relative to the big picture they are pretty small).

The bottom line is pretty impressive Benefit to Cost ratio of 75:1. Way, way more impressive than anything the Internet or the NBN could conjure up and also a wonderful surprise to budget calculations which currently look deep into the red.

In the setting of governmental support from special interest groups in Australia it is scary to anticipate the lengths the struggling government might go to getting rid of the deficit and balancing the budget. It is well known that the Unions for example provide significant campaign funding for the current government, but in the light of Plibersek’s announcement today, it is a dangerous precedent to anticipate that a future government in desperate need of a serious financial bounce might encourage its tied supporters to to go further and make a major organ sacrifice. Would a desperate government tie employment and welfare payments to some such transplant scheme?

It is difficult to see how a six week holiday at basic wage rates could be the necessary incentive to get more than a handful of additional respondents to come forward. A strong and desperate government would need to go beyond such pathetic incentives to something nasty by way of coercion. The possibilities are not nice and very scary.

It is a very bad precedent that the Federal Government of the day begins to tinker with financial payments, work arrangements, employment and welfare for the transplant of human body parts, which can only be implemented to save huge governmental expenditures elsewhere in the economy. Once begun (and not being initially very successful in terms of pathetic incentives), the governmental tendency to tinker and homogenize diverse programs, would inevitably flow down the slippery slope to something not very nice.

There is a place for government in modern society, but it is not amongst our human body parts.




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