Department of Surgery, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, NH.
Previous economic analyses of liver transplantation have focused on the cost of the transplant and subsequent care. Accurate characterization of the pretransplant costs, indexed to severity of illness, is needed to assess the economic burden of liver disease. A novel data set linking Medicare claims with transplant registry data for 15 710 liver transplant recipients was used to determine average monthly waitlist spending (N = 249 434 waitlist months) using multivariable linear regression models to adjust for recipient characteristics including Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) score. Characteristics associated with higher spending included older age, female gender, hepatocellular carcinoma, diabetes, hypertension and increasing MELD score (p < 0.05 for all). Spending increased exponentially with severity of illness: expected monthly spending at a MELD score of 30 was 10 times higher than at MELD of 20 ($22 685 vs. $2030). Monthly spending within MELD strata also varied geographically. For candidates with a MELD score of 35, spending varied from $19 548 (region 10) to $36 099 (region 7). Regional variation in waitlist costs may reflect the impact of longer waiting times on greater pretransplant hospitalization rates among high MELD score patients. Reducing the number of high MELD waitlist patients through improved medical management and novel organ allocation systems could decrease total spending for end-stage liver care.