Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a national gay rights organization, filed a formal appeal Monday against the medical group Kaiser Permanente on behalf of a 53-year-old HIV-positive Colorado man who was denied health care coverage for a kidney transplant. Kaiser rejected John Carl's application to have Kaiser pay for the transplant surgery, because of his HIV status--officials said the drugs needed after a transplant surgery to prevent organ rejection could worsen his HIV disease. "What our doctors are concerned about with organ transplants is that after the operation some pretty powerful immunosuppressant drugs are given," Kaiser spokesperson Steve Krizman said. "They're worried they might be harmful for someone who already has a compromised immune system."
But recent studies in several medical journals have shown that HIV-positive people who have the virus under control through antiretroviral drug treatment fare no worse than HIV-negative people following organ transplant surgery. Carl had even been placed on the national United Network for Organ Sharing's national list, a move that signals the medical-worthiness of the transplant patient. Most insurance companies still refuse to pay for organ transplants for HIV-positive patients, saying the surgeries are considered experimental or that they may be dangerous for the patients.
Hayley Gorenberg, Lambda's AIDS Project director, said this is the first time the group has represented someone who was denied an organ transplant because of their HIV status. The organization has been considering taking an HIV-related organ transplant case for more than a year. "We've been hearing more and more about the frequency of the problem," Gorenberg said.