Background: The potential economic effects of the allocation of cadaveric kidneys on the basis of tissue-matching criteria are controversial. We analyzed the economic costs associated with the transplantation of cadaveric kidneys with various numbers of HLA mismatches and examined the potential economic benefits of a local, as compared with a national, system designed to minimize HLA mismatches between donor and recipient in first cadaveric renal transplantations. Methods: All data were supplied by the U.S. Renal Data System. Data on all payments made by Medicare from 1991 through 1997 for the care of recipients of a first cadaveric renal transplant were analyzed according to the number of HLA-A, B, and DR mismatches between donor and recipient and the duration of cold ischemia before transplantation. Results: Average Medicare payments for renal-transplant recipients in the three years after transplantation increased from $60,436 per patient for fully HLA-matched kidneys (those with no HLA-A, B, or DR mismatches) to $80,807 for kidneys with six HLA mismatches between donor and recipient, a difference of 34 percent (P<0.001). By three years after transplantation, the average Medicare payments were $64,119 for transplantations of kidneys with less than 12 hours of cold-ischemia time and $74,997 for those with more than 36 hours (P<0.001). In simulations, the assignment of cadaveric kidneys to recipients by a method that minimized HLA mismatching within a local geographic area (i.e., within one of the approximately 50 organ-procurement organizations, which cover widely varying geographic areas) produced the largest cost savings ($4,290 per patient over a period of three years) and the largest improvements in the graft-survival rate (2.3 percent) when the potential costs of longer cold-ischemia time were considered. Conclusions: Transplantation of better-matched cadaveric kidneys could have substantial economic advantages. In our simulations, HLA-based allocation of kidneys at the local level produced the largest estimated cost savings, when the duration of cold ischemia was taken into account. No additional savings were estimated to result from a national allocation program, because the additional costs of longer cold-ischemia time were greater than the advantages of optimizing HLA matching.
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