Photo: Ian Waldie (Getty)

Here is an American story. Hedda Martin needs a heart transplant. She applied for a heart transplant. Shortly before Thanksgiving, the Spectrum Health Richard Devos Heart and Lung Transplant Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, got back to her to say that she could not have a heart transplant, because she doesn’t have enough money to pay for the immunosuppressant drugs she would need to make sure her body accepts the new heart. The hospital recommended that she should set up a “fundraising effort.”

Martin’s story started to go viral on Saturday, a few days after she posted a public update on her condition to her Facebook page, largely because it’s a perfect example of how the for-profit health insurance system is destroying American lives. Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has campaigned for Medicare for All, picked up the post as well.

In her post, Martin said she’s due for a procedure to get an assistive device on Monday, but what she needs is a heart transplant. The hospital is essentially prescribing that she set up a GoFundMe so she can prove she has the money to afford the care after it. So far, she hasn’t set one up, but she’s previously raised $4,600 for her treatment.

Per her Facebook post:

I will not be put on the transplant list until I fulfill a requirement of $10,000 set aside. Only when I have raised that required amount, will I then be “reconsidered” for heart transplant. Not automatically added to list but reconsidered. This is new.

In my September hospital stay, I did not get listed because I did not have Medicare part D prescription coverage. So, I went home and had coverage started November 1st.

So now, with my 20% copay for the pharmaceuticals under Part B (that’s right part B- medical not part D pharmaceutical) it will cost me about $700 a month for my part B copay for anti rejection drugs . Once I reach my $4500 annual my cost is $0. So they want me two show I can cover my $4500 deductible by saving $10,000...which I will do. 

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I reached out to Martin and to the hospital involved, and I’ll update this post if I hear back.

Update 5:52 p.m.: Martin has set up a GoFundMe for her current fundraising attempt. It’s currently raised $360 of the $10,000 goal.

Update 10:45 a.m. 11/25/2018: Martin said in an email that someone reported her Facebook post and that her account has been locked for 24 hours. The photo has been taken down. Martin’s fundraiser, however, is at $11,512, well over her goal.

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A spokesperson for Spectrum Health sent over a lengthy statement statement and said that the hospital would have “nothing additional to say at this time.”

Here’s the statement. I’ve bolded one sentence about costs as I specifically asked what role personal finances played in judging a patient’s eligibility for a transplant.

While we do not comment on specific patient situations to protect their privacy, Spectrum Health cares deeply about every patient that enters its doors and provides each of them the highest quality of care possible. While it is always upsetting when we cannot provide a transplant, we have an obligation to ensure that transplants are successful and that donor organs will remain viable. We thoughtfully review candidates for heart and lung transplant procedures with care and compassion, and these are often highly complex, difficult decisions. While our primary focus is the medical needs of the patient, the fact is that transplants require lifelong care and immunosuppression drugs, and therefore costs are sometimes a regrettable and unavoidable factor in the decision-making process. We partner with our patients throughout their care and work closely with them to identify opportunities for financial assistance. Our clinical team has an ongoing dialogue with patients about their eligibility, holding frequent in-person meetings and informing patients in person to ensure they fully understand their specific situation.