Health care is expensive in the United States, where many of us have paid a medical bill only to wonder why the cost of that seemingly small procedure is so high. It makes one wonder how much the most-expensive surgeries must cost.

Here's a list of the top 10 most expensive medical procedures according to the 2020 edition of the triennial Milliman Health Cost Guidelines report.

1. Heart Transplant

Cost: $1,664,800

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and about 3,000 heart transplants are performed in the U.S. every year.  Heart transplants are among the most complicated procedures, carrying a great risk to patients.

The average wait time for a heart transplant is 213 days. The average hospital stay is close to 50 days. Surgery preparation is lengthy and expensive. Add to this the expensive procurement of the organ, and you can see why the cost is high.

Key Takeaways

  • A heart transplant is one of the most expensive types of surgeries. 
  • Patients needing a kidney transplant have the longest wait time at an average of 685 days. 
  • Pre-transplant care, procurement, post-transplant care and medicine all contribute to the high cost of organ transplants.
  • Patients who receive corneal transplants are awake for the procedure. 

2. Double Lung Transplant

Cost: $1,295,900

When other therapies don't work, lung transplants are the last resort for patients of lung disease like emphysema and cystic fibrosis. Patients must wait an average of 186 days for a lung transplant, and the average hospital stay is about 31 days.

3. Intestine Transplant

Cost: $1,240,700

A transplant of the intestine is done to replace dead intestinal tissue with live tissue from a donor, often because of disease or the presence of a tumor. Intestinal disease is sometimes accompanied by the liver or other organ failures. Because of this, intestine transplants are often done in conjunction with another organ, adding more than $400,000 to the bill. Fewer than 40 intestine transplants are expected to be performed in 2020.

27.5 million

The number of Americans who lack healthcare insurance.

4. Allogeneic Bone Marrow Transplant

Cost: $1,071,700

Bone marrow transplants done with a donor's marrow are called allogeneic transplants. The nature of this procedure is risky. The average hospital stay is 34 days, and extensive recovery care contributes to a large portion of the overall bill.

5. Single Lung Transplant

Cost: $929,600

Like a double lung transplant, the wait list can be long and it’s still very expensive to merely replace a single lung. Coupling a lung and a heart transplant together is one of the most expensive procedures a patient can receive, totaling nearly $2.6 million.

6. Liver Transplant

Cost: $878,400

As with a heart transplant, liver transplants are high risk and high cost, with an accompanying waiting list. Criteria are high, which means administrative and prep procedure costs add to the bottom line.

7. Autologous Bone Marrow Transplant

Cost: $471,600

A bone marrow transplant done with one’s own bone marrow is called an autologous transplant. This is part of the reason why the procedure costs less than an allogeneic transplant. It’s cheaper because, with allogeneic transplants, you have to find a donor, which can be difficult, plus complications after the procedure are very common.

8. Kidney Transplant

Cost: $442,500

Kidney transplants, like the other transplants on this list, are expensive due to the risk, recovery, and prep expense. The one difference is that, with kidney transplants, the old kidney isn't removed because it's been shown it reduces risk that way; surgeons find a different blood supply to attach the new kidney to.

9. Pancreas Transplant

Cost: $408,800

Transplants of the pancreas are usually needed when a patient has type 1 diabetes or renal failure. It is often done in tandem with a kidney transplant, increasing the cost to $851,300.

10. Cornea Transplant

Cost: $32,500

Vision problems stemming from a thinning of the cornea can be fixed with a cornea transplant. The surgery is done with the patient awake.

The Bottom Line

If you think these costs are high, consider patients with a chronic disease that affects more than one organ. These patients often need multiple organ transplants, with bills exceeding a million dollars. Why the whopping price tags for all these surgeries?

In the case of transplants, the hospital stay before and after the surgery makes up the majority of the bill. Some of the cost comes from liability insurance, those high premiums hospitals and doctors have to pay to cover themselves in case of lawsuits.

An estimated 27.5 million Americans lack health insurance. With surgery costs for organ transplants costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, access to health insurance coverage is vital for someone who needs one of the above life-preserving and extremely expensive procedures.