John Riehl received kidney, pancreas transplant in December 2022
Sunday, October 29, 2023

When John Riehl found out he would undergo a combined kidney and pancreas transplant last year, there was a lot to worry about: how the procedure would go, how his family was handling the stress, and missing out on family events.

One thing he says he didn’t worry about was how much it was going to cost.

Riehl, a web content strategist for the University of Iowa Graduate College, would have been faced with significant medical bills for the procedure without health insurance. But with the University of Iowa employee health benefits he selected, his out-of-pocket costs were what he describes as minimal.

Open enrollment information

Faculty and staff open enrollment begins Nov. 1, with the open enrollment period ending Wednesday, Nov. 15. New health coverage options will take effect Jan. 1. Learn more at about changes to both UISelect and UIChoice plans—including increased monthly premium rates—coming in 2024 and make the best health care choice for you and your family. 

“I think a big recruiting tool for the university is talking about the benefits package,” says Riehl, who has worked for the UI since 2009. “When you have to go to the doctors, not only is our hospital state-of-the-art, but the insurance costs don’t overwhelm you. That has always been important to me, but it has been even more critical since last year.”

Riehl has polycystic kidney disease, a hereditary condition causing cysts to form on the kidney and ultimately shut down the organ, and he was told he would need a transplant. He ultimately received the kidney and pancreas transplant in December 2022 to also cure him of Type 1 diabetes.

As he went through the transplant process, Riehl spoke with a member of the transplant team about his benefits and the costs of the transplant.

“Our discussion was really short,” Riehl says, after he told the staff member he was enrolled in a UI health insurance plan.

UIChoice and UISelect are the two high-quality health insurance plans available to most UI employees. UISelect allows employees more flexibility with their spending and lower premiums. UIChoice offers lower out-of-pocket costs for medical care with coverage inside and outside of Iowa.

“We believe offering a comprehensive benefits package helps provide peace of mind and improves employee well-being, a critical component to the UI Strategic Plan,” says Cheryl Reardon, chief human resources officer and associate vice president. “An excellent benefits package is one way the institution is committed to supporting its employees and encouraging a work environment where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.”

Riehl was on the transplant waitlist for about a year before his Dec. 21, 2022, procedure. He had to stay in the hospital for a week after the transplant, but he didn’t have to worry about being strapped with steep medical costs after meeting his out-of-pocket maximum for the year.

“It was a stressful time waiting for the transplant, but I knew with my benefits I wouldn’t have to worry about the cost, which made it easier,” Riehl says. “I know how fortunate I am. It made a super difficult and trying time not so stressful.”

Riehl says that he also had enough vacation and sick days accrued so he could take off all of January and February 2023 to recover from the transplant while still receiving pay. 

The UI’s health benefits are a major point that should be highlighted to new employees, Riehl says, especially for those thinking about potential medical costs that come with aging.

“I can’t overemphasize how much they are taking care of you,” Riehl says. “It makes things easier in trying times. You shouldn’t have to worry about health care costs, and the University of Iowa thinks about that for their employees. They say, ‘If there’s a catastrophe, we’ve got your back.’”