It took far too long, but finally, patients needing life-saving organ transplants may end up getting the high-quality care they both need and deserve. As a disability advocate and mother of a young child with cystic fibrosis, I applaud this latest reform. Cystic fibrosis is a disease that can destroy an individual’s lungs, and sadly, many fighting for their lives die while waiting for a transplant.
Yet a recent step toward protecting the life of the vulnerable came with the congressional passage of legislation reforming the network that administers the nation’s organ transplant system. Coupled with prior reforms enacted by the Trump administration, the changes will increase the number of transplants performed every year, saving thousands of lives — not to mention taxpayer dollars.
The legislation, which passed the House and Senate on voice votes recently, would break up the monopoly held by the Organ Transplant and Procurement Network. This network, which oversees the nation’s 56 organ procurement organizations, has long suffered from archaic computer systems and an unaccountable bureaucracy.
A Senate Finance Committee investigation released last year found serious problems within the network, which ignored numerous patient complaints. Other patients suffered harm when the network’s systems lost organs awaiting transplant.
Earlier this year, the Biden administration requested new authority from Congress to restructure the organ transplant network and bids from contractors to administer its systems. Once Biden signs this legislation into law, the network can undergo the modernization that the U.S. Digital Service previously recommended.
Congress’s action comes on the heels of prior regulatory steps that also commanded broad bipartisan support. The Trump administration enacted changes designed to promote organ donation and reform the current system. For instance, allowing reimbursements for expenses such as travel and child care costs encouraged more living kidney donors by eliminating the financial barriers some potential donors faced.
The Trump administration also introduced new accountability to the nation’s organ procurement organizations (OPOs), measuring their performance based on the number of transplants they complete. These OPOs face the possibility of losing their regional monopoly status if they fail to measure up. The Biden administration has continued the reform efforts, releasing a dashboard to publicize OPOs’ transplant rates.
Individually and collectively, these new policies will revolutionize the organ donation industry — a sorely needed effort. An average of 16 patients die every day awaiting an organ transplant, in large part because the system fails to optimize its performance. Doctors discard organs viewed as less-than-perfect, choosing to keep patients waiting and often dying. In other cases, bureaucratic snafus mean the organs fail to get to their intended destination in time, meaning they must be discarded for safety reasons.
These reforms will save not only lives but taxpayers’ money. More efficiently allocating existing organs will allow for 28,000 more transplants every year, giving the gift of life to thousands of Americans. And because Medicare covers most patients with chronic kidney failure, successfully transplanting more kidneys will save an estimated $13 billion over five years that would otherwise be spent covering dialysis treatments for patients.
At a time of intense partisanship, reforming the organ procurement system remains a remarkably bipartisan effort, with members of Congress, the Trump administration, and the Biden administration coming together to pass a series of meaningful reforms.
Most importantly, I’m happy for the effect these changes will have on patients in desperate need of an organ transplant. By giving new life to the organ transplant system, Congress has quite literally given new life to thousands of Americans.