Feds OK AGH liver transplant program

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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has certified Allegheny General Hospital's liver transplantation program, which means Medicare and Medicaid patients - as well as those with private insurance requiring CMS certification - can have the procedure done at AGH.

CMS is a federal agency that oversees the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Since Allegheny General's liver transplant program began in 2007, 24 patients have undergone the procedure there. For insurance coverage purposes, however, Medicare and Medicaid patients were often referred elsewhere.

With the certification, "We can provide better continuity of care for our current liver patients, and offer an exceptional new choice to patients in Western Pennsylvania who are in need of advanced liver care," said Ngoc Thai, director of AGH's Center for Abdominal Transplantation and Liver Disease.

The program still lags well behind the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's liver program, which transplant surgeon Thomas Starzl built into one of the premier programs in the world.

But all liver programs deal with a shortage of available organs and, as more liver programs have been established, the number of transplants at individual centers has dwindled.

UPMC has seen its number of liver transplants decrease from more than 400 in 1990, to 222 in 2005 to 102 procedures in 2009, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network's website.

Another 40 liver transplants were done at the Pittsburgh Veterans Affairs hospital last year. The AGH program has done between two and 11 liver transplants in each of the last three years.

About 5,300 to 6,300 liver transplants are done yearly in the United States. Meanwhile, some 15,730 patients are on the waiting list for a new liver, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Steve Twedt: stwedt@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1963.


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