Bringing HOPE to a Divided Congress

Legislation to end a 1980s-era federal ban on the transplantation of organs from deceased HIV+ donors to patients with HIV is moving forward in Congress. At a time when reaching across the aisle is rare, the overwhelming bipartisan support for the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act (HOPE Act) and its rapid advancement in the House and Senate underscore the importance of this legislation.

Research indicates that lifting this medically outdated ban could add up to 600 organs per year for HIV-infected transplant candidates. That means patients with HIV could get faster access to a new supply of HIV+ organs. This would not only help individuals with HIV, but would reduce the organ shortage for the more than 95,000 Americans currently on a transplant waitlist—with or without HIV—who are in the same organ pool.

Momentum in the Senate and House

In a political environment where very little legislation is being passed, the HOPE Act has quickly advanced since its introduction on February, 14, 2013, by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in the Senate, and by Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) and Rep. Andy Harris (R-GA) in the House. Less than 5 months later, the bill had passed the Senate with one amendment by unanimous consent on June 17, 2013. Building off this momentum, the House of Representatives Energy & Commerce Committee slated the HOPE Act for markup—the final hurdle before reaching the House floor for a vote—on July 17, 2013, where it was again unanimously approved with no objections.

ASN has made the HOPE Act a policy priority, and in doing so, ASN staff has met with nearly one in three of the members of the House of Representatives offices who ultimately cosponsored the HOPE Act. ASN has been working with an extremely diverse group of advocacy organizations, ranging from the HIV and LGBT communities to medical and transplant societies. This broad support is not limited to the public sector. Because of the tremendous bipartisan support, it is possible that the House version of the HOPE Act will be passed under suspension of the rules—a procedure used to quickly pass noncontroversial bills. Since the HOPE Act has already passed the Senate, and looks to be able to pass the House of Representatives, the next step would be the President’s desk, making the Hope Act one of only a handful of bills to be signed into law in the 113th Congress.

Benefits for patients, physicians, and taxpayers

The HOPE Act is a scientifically sound, no-cost bill, which could increase access to transplantation, potentially saving lives and millions of dollars by eliminating the need for dialysis, which can cost upwards of $80,000 annually per patient. Most important, passage of this bill could make a significant difference for patients and their families who are waiting for the gift of life.

ASN will remain in close contact with the staff of the bill’s sponsors and will provide consistent updates to ASN members as further developments occur.