In the News

Modern Healthcare
Susannah Luthi

Two senators are eying Congress' appropriations authority to influence a contentious debate over a change to national organ distribution policy.

The issue was raised Thursday in a Senate health appropriations panel hearing with HHS Secretary Alex Azar. Panel Chair Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) are trying to intervene against a sweeping new policy that changes the geography-based system of liver allocation to one that prioritizes the sickest patients.

Blunt told Modern Healthcare he will look at the independent board tasked with setting national organ distribution policy.

"That group has a budget, and apparently the Congress hasn't been able to get attention yet, and we're going to look at that budget real closely this year," he said.

He reiterated that the budget has to do with oversight rather than funding healthcare.

"But it's an oversight budget, and the oversight is being poorly handled, in my view," he said.

Moran said he wants to work with Blunt on "anything we can do to get (the Health Resources and Services Administration's) attention and ultimately getting a different and better policy than the direction that they're going."

The new policy for livers was approved in early December by the board of the United Network for Organ Sharing. UNOS is an independent entity made up of transplant surgeons and recipients, organ donors and others.

UNOS is contracted to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, or OPTN, which is tasked by HRSA to oversee the national distribution system.

The direct federal appropriation is expected to be roughly $4.5 million of the roughly $51 million total budget for OPTN, said UNOS spokesperson Joel Newman. The majority of the network's funding comes from a one-time fee paid by a member organization when a patient joins the waiting list for a transplant.

About 8% of the OPTN budget goes to oversight of compliance with the organ allocation policies.

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