Opponents of Broader Sharing of Organs for Transplant Move to Block New Policy that Will Improve Equity and Decrease Waitlist Mortality

April 23, 2019
Contact: Billy Wynne, (202) 309-0796, billy@wynnehealth.com

Today, opponents to equitable allocation of organs for transplant filed a lawsuit to block implementation of a new policy that will save hundreds of lives. Adopted in December 2018 and slated for implementation on April 30, 2019, the new policy will improve equity across the liver transplant population by ensuring patients have fair access to donated organs. The National Coalition for Transplant Equity (NCTE) strongly supports this new policy and seeks to ensure its full and expeditious implementation.           

The Organ Procurement Transplant Network (OPTN) – with statutory authority to establish organ transplant policies – sought to correct the current policy on grounds that it violates the National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA). NOTA requires the OPTN to design policies that ensure “equitable allocation of donated organs” regardless of where transplant recipients reside. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has acknowledged that the policy that has been in place for many years is predominantly based on where patients live and is thus inequitable and illegal under the law. Under the current formula, arbitrary geographic boundaries (known as Donor Service Areas and Regions) often deny the neediest patients access to organs that were relatively close by.

 After years of deliberation and public comment, the OPTN developed and voted overwhelmingly to adopt a new policy that will reduce geographic variations in organ allocation and saves lives. Under the new system, the sickest patients everywhere will benefit from increased access to livers for transplant, regardless of where they live. We applaud HHS for taking a stand for these patients in their response to the opposition’s critical comment, filed earlier this year, in which they assert that no further Department action is necessary to respond to their objections.

 The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which would maintain the current unlawful policy for the foreseeable future, contend that the new OPTN policy will increase mortality and disadvantage those with socioeconomic needs. The full data set they rely on, however, demonstrates that the new policy will decrease waitlist mortality by 114 lives annually. The OPTN has also been diligent in its investigation on how this policy will affect those with low socioeconomic status and has made such findings public. And Americans overwhelmingly agree: In a 2012 HHS survey, 82 percent of respondents said they prefer their donated organs go to the most medically needy patients, regardless of where they live.

 The new policy will save more lives. It is deeply unfortunate that parochial interests seek to thwart the will of the transplant community by blocking the broader sharing of livers for transplant. The lives of hundreds of patients on the waiting list nationwide currently hang in the balance.

 About NCTE

The National Coalition for Transplant Equity is an alliance of patient advocates, organ procurement organizations, transplant centers, and other stakeholders dedicated to improving and protecting equity in how organs are allocated for transplant nationwide. NCTE advances policies that reduce geographic disparities in wait times, patient acuity at time of transplant, and organ failure-related deaths. In particular, NCTE strongly supports the latest OPTN/UNOS decision to adopt the “Acuity Model” for organ distribution, which will reduce the average sickness of patients at the time of transplant, reduce costs to the system, and, most importantly, save lives.