New Legislation Would Benefit Both Transplant Donors and Recipients

The widening gulf between available deceased donor organs and individuals needing a transplant is no secret, nor is the lengthy wait for a deceased donor kidney. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, as of August 15, 2014, more than 123,375 Americans are waiting for a transplant, the vast majority for a kidney (101,124). Living kidney donation can potentially provide patients with faster access to a life-saving organ than if they waited for a deceased donor kidney. In most cases, living donor kidneys offer superior clinical outcomes and overall quality of life. Living donation provides an opportunity for better matched organs than deceased donor kidneys, and, with immunosuppressive compliance, an exponentially higher probability of success without rejection.

Every year, thousands of Americans willingly choose to donate organs to save the lives of family members, friends, and strangers struggling with kidney disease and other diseases necessitating organ transplant. Given the scarcity of both living and deceased organs, and the high cost of dialysis care to the government, one would think everything possible would be done in order to ensure incentives for living donation. Currently, individuals who choose to undergo living donation are categorized as having a “voluntary procedure,” which can be classified by insurance companies as a preexisting condition and is associated with potential negative ramifications.

Good news for both transplant donors and recipients

On July 30, 2014, longtime friends of the kidney community—Rep. Michael C. Burgess, MD (R-TX), and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)—introduced the Living Organ Donor Protection Act (H.R. 5263). This bipartisan legislation would make it easier for Americans to donate kidneys and other organs by extending the Family and Medical Leave Act coverage to living donors, ensuring they obtain time off work to donate an organ and recover, while still keeping their jobs. The bill would also protect the thousands of Americans who give the gift of life by prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage, raising premiums, or limiting coverage because of their organ donation.

Path moving forward

This bill is still a long way from the president’s desk, which is why ASN and other stakeholders in the transplant and kidney communities believe it critical to work collaboratively to build support in Congress for this life-giving legislation. Individuals trying to donate an organ should not be punished for trying to better the life of someone in need.

ASN will provide updates on H.R. 5263 in future issues of ASN Kidney News. Please visit the ASN Advocacy and Public Policy page (http://www.asn-online.org/policy/) to learn more and to urge your members of Congress to support this vital legislation.

H.R. 5263 at a Glance

  • Prohibits life, disability, and long-term care insurance companies from denying or limiting coverage and from charging higher premiums for living organ donors.
  • Clarifies that living organ donors may use FMLA time to recover from the surgeries and procedures involved in their donation.
  • Directs HHS to update their materials on live organ donation to reflect these new protections and encourage more individuals to consider donating an organ.

*FMLA = Family and Medical Leave Act; HHS = Department of Health and Human Services.