The Final Rule aimed to reduce geographic disparities in access to transplantation by prioritizing the need for transplant over donor proximity. However, disparities in waiting times persist for deceased donor kidney transplantation. The kidney allocation system implemented in 2014 does not account for potential local supply based on population health characteristics within a donation service area (DSA). We hypothesized that regions with traditionally high rates of comorbid disease, such as the states located along the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf States), may be disadvantaged by limited local supply secondary to poor population health.
Using data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation County Health Rankings, the United States Renal Data System, and the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, we compared population-level characteristics and expected kidney donation rates by Gulf States location.
Prevalence of African American ethnicity, end-stage renal disease, diabetes, fair/poor self-rated health, physical inactivity, food insecurity, and uninsurance were higher among Gulf State DSAs. On unadjusted analyses, Gulf State DSAs were associated with 3.52 fewer expected kidney donors per 100 eligible deaths than non-Gulf States. After adjustment, there was no longer a statistically significant difference in expected kidney donation rate.
Although Gulf State DSAs have lower expected donation rates, these differences appear to be driven by the prevalence of health factors negatively associated with donation rate. These data suggest the need to discuss population health characteristics when examining kidney allocation policy, to account for potential lower supply of donors and to further address geographic disparities in access to kidney transplantation.