In the News

Kansas City Star
Andy Marso

U.S. senators from Kansas and Missouri are leading a fight over how transplant livers are distributed, pitting more rural states with high donation rates against patients on the coasts who say they have to wait too long.

The fight is over changes that will take effect April 30, allowing people who are sicker to get a better chance at a matching liver, even if they live as far as 500 miles from where it was donated. Right now the change only applies to livers, but it could become a model for other organ transplants as well.

The change, approved by the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network in December, is meant to smooth out some of the regional differences in how sick a person has to become before getting a liver, said Anne Paschke, a spokeswoman for United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS, the Virginia-based nonprofit that runs the transplant network.

“What we’re looking at is saving as many lives as possible,” she said.

There will be winners and losers geographically. States like Missouri and Kansas, which have some of the highest organ donation rates in the country, are among the losers.

Paschke said computer models predict that the difference will be minimal and people in the Midwest who are ill will still have a better shot at getting a liver than people in most other parts of the country.

But that isn’t mollifying lawmakers.

Republican U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Jerry Moran of Kansas recently criticized the change in a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That government agency contracts with the organ transplant network to operate the complicated donation web.

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