An organ transplant can be a life-saving procedure, but recipients of organ transplants face significant health risks during recovery. Certain medications are necessary in order for these recipients to avoid infection and other systemic complications.

What Medications Do Kidney Transplant Recipients Need?

Because an organ transplant is a complex and complicated procedure, the medication a recipient needs to manage their condition can change throughout the transplant process. This generally occurs as a three-pronged regiment: induction, maintenance and anti-rejection medications.

The induction phase involves potent doses of anti-rejection medication and may also be referred to as antibody therapy. This level of potency is necessary immediately following a transplant because the body will automatically treat the new organ as a foreign body and attempt to attack, or reject, the kidney.

Maintenance medications may include the same medications used during the induction phase but at lower doses that are meant to be used over a longer period of time. Some of these medications may be required for the rest of a transplant recipient’s life.

If the recipient experiences acute or chronic rejection, certain doses of maintenance medication may be increased in order to prevent symptoms from worsening. Certain steroids may also be effective in treating the symptoms of acute rejection for kidney transplant recipients.

Because these are immunosuppressant therapies, the body’s natural ability to fight off illness is severely compromised and recipients are vulnerable to getting sick more quickly. Additionally, common or mild illnesses may become life-threatening for people who are taking immunosuppressants for an organ transplant. Some medications, as well as foods and supplements, may also complicate the success of immunosuppressant therapy.

Recipients should work closely with their transplant team to make sure they receive effective and timely treatment in the case of complications or illness. Doctors should be aware of any existing medications and recipients should ask which medications, foods or supplements they should avoid while receiving immunosuppressant therapy.

Medicare Coverage for Kidney Transplant Drugs

How Medicare benefits work for kidney transplant drug therapy depends on a few factors. If a recipient is eligible for Medicare benefits because they have End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) but otherwise would not qualify for Medicare coverage, their drug therapy for a kidney transplant is covered for 36 months following the initial month of a successful transplant.

If Medicare recipients are otherwise eligible for coverage due to age or disability, they do not have a time limit. Medicare Part B covers immunosuppressive medication and recipients should be prepared to pay for 20% of Medicare’s approved amount for this treatment. Some Medicare Supplement or Medicare Advantage plans may be available in their area that can help them reduce their out-of-pocket expenses when it comes to copays, coinsurances and deductibles.

If Medicare recipients become ill due to their weakened immune system, but that illness is not directly related to the transplant itself, they may need prescription medication to treat that illness. This medication is not part of a kidney transplant regiment, so a recipient may need to enroll in a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan to help them mitigate the costs of these drugs. Medicare Part D plans can be purchased as standalone plans or bundled together with Original Medicare through a Medicare Advantage plan.

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