WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) – member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies – this week joined 21 of his Senate colleagues from both sides of the aisle in demanding answers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regarding a recent change in the national liver distribution policy made by the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). Under the new policy, transplant hospitals in areas with rural and low-income populations could have reduced access to locally donated livers, exacerbating already long wait times for patients whose lives depend on receiving a donated liver transplant.
“The changes made on December 3, 2018, by the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) to the national liver distribution policy could adversely impact many Americans seeking liver transplants,” the senators wrote. “…the Department only asked the OPTN to address the concerns specifically laid out in the suit – the justification for OPTN geographic regions. We are concerned that this intervention tipped the scales toward one outcome, and did not set up a process to address all the issues and factors that should be considered for fair liver distribution.”
The senators note that, by failing to account for regional variations in liver donation rates and disparities in the performance of organ procurement organizations (OPOs), the OPTN’s policy change appears to reward locations that underutilize existing organ resources and have historically had troubled OPOs.
The senators also challenge the process by which the OPTN decision was made, writing, “The December 3rd policy change both conflicts with the 2017 OPTN decision and ignores the recommendation of the Liver and Intestine Transplantation Committee, whose members include some of the nation’s leading transplant experts.”
The senators seek answers on the issues raised above, as well as specific information on the impact OPTN’s policy change will have on Midwestern and Southern states, and low-income patients, and the effects the new policy will have on transplant costs and the viability of livers in transport.
The letter, led by Senators Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), was also signed by Senators Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.).
The full text of the letter can be found here.
Items to note:
- Last October, Sen. Moran and Sen. Blunt met with Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Administrator Dr. George Sigounas to discuss proposed policy changes to the national liver distribution policy, and to raise their concerns.
- Last December, Sen. Moran and Sen. Blunt led an inquiry with HHS Secretary Alex Azar regarding this policy change.
- On December 19, Sen. Moran spoke on the floor regarding this policy change.
- On January 9, Sen. Moran spoke with HHS Secretary Alex Azar to further discuss this issue and its impact on Kansas City-area hospitals.
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