Excess mortality on the liver transplant waiting list: Unintended policy consequences and model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) inflation


  • Potential conflict of interest: Dr. Berg received grants from Vertex and holds other interests with Achillion.

  • Supported in part by Health Resources and Services Administration contract 234-2005-370011C.

  • See Editorial on Page 28


The Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) allocation system for liver transplantation provides “exceptions” for diseases such as hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). It was the aim of this study to assess equipoise between exception candidates and nonexception candidates on the waiting list and to assess if the exception system contributes to steadily increasing regional MELD at transplant. In all, 78,595 adult liver transplant candidates between January 2005 and December 2012 were analyzed. Yearly trends in waiting list characteristics and transplantation rates were analyzed for statistical association with MELD exceptions. Regional variations in these associations and the effect of exceptions on regional MELD scores at transplant were also analyzed. 27.29% of the waiting list was occupied by candidates with exceptions. Candidates with exceptions fared much better on the waiting list compared to those without exceptions in mean days waiting (HCC 237 versus non-HCC 426), transplantation rates (HCC 79.05% versus non-HCC 40.60%), and waiting list death rates (HCC 4.49% versus non-HCC 24.63%). Strong regional variation in exception use occurred but exceptions were highly correlated with waiting list death rates, transplantation rates, and MELD score at removal in all regions. In a multivariate model predicting MELD score at transplant within regions, the percentage of HCC MELD exceptions was the strongest independent predictor of regional MELD score at transplant. Conclusion: Liver transplant candidates with MELD exceptions have superior outcomes compared to nonexception candidates and the current MELD exception system is largely responsible for steadily increasing MELD scores at transplant independent of geography. (Hepatology 2015;61:285–291)