January 23,2019

Grassley, Blunt, 20 Senate Colleagues Demand Answers on Changes to National Liver Distribution Policy

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and U.S. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, led 20 of their Senate colleagues in sending a bipartisanletter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) demanding answers to 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 see patients waiting longer for a liver match and losing livers donated in their state. 

“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.”

In the letter, 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 letter seeks 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.

In addition to Grassley and Blunt, the letter was signed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (Ala.), and Senators Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), John Boozman (Ark.), Tom Cotton (Ark.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Lindsay Graham (S.C.), Josh Hawley (Mo.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (Miss.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Doug Jones (Ala.), James Lankford (Okla.), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Tim Scott (S.C.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Roger Wicker (Miss.) and Todd Young (Ind.). 

Click here to read the full letter.