WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) today joined Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) on the Senate floor to raise concerns with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) new policy for national liver allocation.
Sen. Moran and Sen. Blunt have led efforts to stop the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network’s (OPTN) move to change the liver allocation policy, which would negatively impact patients awaiting transplants in Midwestern states, including Missouri and Kansas. The senators have continually urged Secretary Azar to delay the implementation of changes to the national liver allocation policy while there is ongoing litigation.
“The lack of interest and concern exhibited by those involved in this process is appalling to me,” said Sen. Moran. “I stand here today because of the outright refusal of the Secretary of Health and Human Services to halt the implementation of this damaging and unfair health policy that has not withstood examination by either medical experts or our nation’s judicial system.”
Click Here to Watch Chairman Moran’s Full Remarks
Remarks as delivered:
“I certainly rise to support the remarks of my colleague from Missouri, Senator Blunt, and I thank him for his leadership. He is in an important position as the chairperson of the Labor, Health, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee responsible for appropriating funds to the Department of Health and Human Services. I serve on that subcommittee with him.
“He is a leader in so many ways, but I am so pleased that we are allies on this issue. This issue of life and death for Kansans, Missourians and to my colleagues on the Senate floor – this is really a life and death issue for many of your constituents across the country but particularly in rural areas in the Midwest and in the south. The decisions that have been made, the decisions that are being made, have huge consequences that will affect families, individuals and their lives today and for years to come.
“I expressed my concerns, my deeply held belief that the Department of Health and Human Services is failing to do its job. Their harmful actions will damage the liver allocation policy in this country in the way that I just described.
“The policy discussion that we're having here today is important. It’s important any day, but it's relevant as the National Donor Day is this Friday, February the 14th. I want to take a moment to thank those across Kansas and Missouri and around the country who have donated their organs to give the gift of life.
“Senator Blunt is right. I think there is a tendency on the part of people to donate an organ knowing that somebody, maybe they certainly don't necessarily know them, but somebody who might live down the street or live in the same community or live in the same state. There is a sense of community across this country that is being destroyed.
“The end result of that is there will be fewer donors donating organs for the lives of others. These changes to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) distribution policy - they redistribute the organs from states and regions that have high donor organ rates to areas that have historically underperformed – results in patients in Kansas and those in the Midwest and Southern states to wait a much longer time for the organ.
“I spoke on this topic on the Senate floor back before this destructive policy was pushed forward. I spoke in 2018, and we are still here today. The lack of interest and concern exhibited by those involved in this process is appalling to me. I stand here today because of the outright refusal of the Secretary of Health and Human Services to halt the implementation of this damaging and unfair health policy that has not withstood examination by either medical experts or our nation’s judicial system.
“In fact, the United States District Court has been forced to place multiple injunctions on the implementation of this policy last year as HHS tried to force this policy upon patients across the nation despite a lawsuit from the collection of our nation's best transplant centers. So the organizations that are fully engaged in opposing this process are the people who transplant the organs to those who are in desperate need of them - it's the experts, it’s the surgeons, it's the transplant centers in universities and hospitals across a wide swath of the country.
“HHS has ignored the initial injunction order and began to implement the harmful policy, so they had to seek a second injunction in order to force them to have the injunction upheld. In explaining the court order, this district judge – it’s in the district in Georgia – said the ‘difficult and wrenching’ policy, ‘creating profound issues and institutional disruption’ and concluded that this policy will undoubtedly cause harm to patients and particularly those in rural areas.
“There is also mounting evidence that the United Network for Organ Sharing and its CEO have acted in disregard, and I would say callous disregard, for rural areas in the Midwest and South throughout the development of this policy. The same areas have the highest donation rates and play an enormous role in the lifesaving transplant system. The people that live there are the ones that are being harmed. Those who are crafting and implementing this system continually disregard the evidence that shows these areas are already suffering under the weight of HHS’ new policy.
“As I've said before, this policy tosses aside all public concerns from patients, transplant surgeons, hospitals and best practices to improve the availability of organs across the nation. There is no reason to have a regional fight. There are ways to do this that benefits all regions of the country. It also carries the risk of decreasing those organ donations that will then damage everyone. This limits the availability and access to donated organs and damages the ability for major transplant hospitals – in the case of Kansas, the University of Kansas Hospital – to perform these services for patients.
“This is particularly frustrating because dating back to December 2017, the board of the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network (OPTN) has approved an equitable liver allocation process that serves the entire community’s best interest. This was a necessary policy reform that took years of consideration and would better benefit the entire country based upon compromise by transplant experts, patients and important stakeholders. That policy was abandoned.
“We were assured when it was abandoned that OPTN and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) that the public comments would be considered. That policy that took years to develop and involved the evaluation of experts and give and take in the process was overturned so easily. We were promised we'd have the opportunity for those who had concerns with this policy to have input. And the reality of that fact is that was a lie. It was not true.
“Many concerns were made by patients, by transplant centers, by surgeons and they were never considered by OPTN in their rushed process to finalize the policy. The reasons they were not considered was because the overwhelming negative responses caused the entire comment system to completely shut down. So people across the country commented on it, they commented in such frequency that the ability for the computer system to log, the telephone system to log, the input crashed.
“Of course, did the OPTN wait until they could get those comments and consider them? No, they made the decision without that input. In fact, the president of OPTN has informed many commenters in the transplant community that their concerns over the new policy were not even read by the board that approved the policy. Many transplant hospitals, surgeons and medical professionals who had deep concerns and took time out of their busy days to express them never were heard. They were ignored.
“These are the people who are tasked with saving lives through the transplants that they perform each and every day, yet their opinions were essentially deemed invalid. It appears that HRSA and OPTN making policy in such a reckless fashion has become the normal state of affairs.
“Despite the continual efforts by Senator Blunt and I to get Secretary Azar to review, to modify and to consider and reconsider to put on hold this policy, we have had no success. Additional oversight is desperately needed to restore some semblance of common sense in the actions and policies that are being taken and deployed. I'm deeply disappointed in the actions of Secretary Azar, HRSA, OPTN and UNOS. This process has been flawed from the start to finish, guided by not what is best for the country, but how best to step sidestep a specific single lawsuit. Organ procurement and allocation policy is too important to be decided in this fashion.
“Secretary Azar – the University of Kansas health system typically performs eight to ten liver transplants per month. Since this policy that has been implemented under your administration they have performed zero – zero – transplants since its implementation, as a direct result of the policy.
“Current estimates are at KU, the hospital, it may take up to six months before they are able to provide another one of these lifesaving organ donation operations. Meanwhile, those on the transplant list in Kansas watch their wait times grow as hope begins to dwindle.
“This really is a lot about hope, it's about saving lives. If you are on a list that continually grows longer while you're waiting for that organ – what a depressing discouraging circumstance for you and your family. Secretary Azar’s policy is causing direct harm to the people of my state. It is time that he steps up and takes responsibility for the actions of his department, which is causing real harm to patients.
“These transplant hospitals from across Missouri and Kansas and elsewhere wrote the president, wrote Secretary Azar within the last two weeks asking for a halt in the policy until we have the time to let a judge decide the issues in the court case and also to make sure that we get it right ultimately. I call on Secretary Azar to halt the implementation of this disastrous policy and save lives from being unnecessarily lost.
“And again, I thank my colleague from just across the state line, the home of the Kansas City Chiefs, for his support in this effort. He has a voice that has to be heard, will be heard, and I'm pleased to be allied with him and his concern for patients in my state and patients in his own.”