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New program takes on organ donation barriers

The HERO Program helps employees receive organs by reimbursing donors for lost wages and lodging.

Donating organs can be a huge sacrifice for living donors - often with unexpected financial burdens. 

One company is trying to change that.

Dr. Jon Friedman is a Fellow of the American Society of Transplantation, OptumHealth Medical Benefit Management chief medical officer and a co-creator of the HERO program (Help Employees Receive Organs). He spoke to KARE 11 Thursday about what the program does. 

Friedman said nearly every living organ donor - 96% - experiences financial hardship due to lost wages and travel and time away from work, according to the American Society of Transplantation (AST).  

To address this challenge, UnitedHealth Group has launched a first-of-its-kind program designed to lower the barriers to living donor transplants, called Helping Employees Receive Organs - The HERO Program. He said the program breaks down financial barriers for people donating organs to a person on an eligible UnitedHealth employer-sponsored medical plan. The donors don't need to be on a UnitedHealth plan. 

"Living donors should not have to worry about financial considerations when saving lives," Friedman told KARE 11.

He said the HERO Program provides up to $12,000 in financial support for lost wages and travel and lodging – up to $6,000 for lost wages and up to $6,000 of travel and lodging expenses – to people outside UnitedHealth Group who donate a kidney, a liver or bone marrow to a company employee or family member enrolled in an eligible employer-sponsored medical plan.

Friedman said the HERO Program is the first program by a large employer that covers expenses for employees at other organizations.

If your company isn't included, Friedman said it could launch its own. He said UnitedHealth Group is planning to share the financial and legal models it used to launch this program with any employer that is interested in providing the benefit. 

Interested companies can contact UnitedHealth Group or the AST to learn more. 

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