A bill waiting for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature would add New York to a growing list of states that passed legislation in 2018 to protect living organ donors. It’s time for Congress to do the same and extend this protection to all Americans.
Despite the good they do for people with failing organs, not to mention for society, living organ donors face significant obstacles. One of the biggest is getting time off work for surgery and recovery. Another is that insurance companies routinely deny or limit life, disability, and long-term care insurance policies for living donors, or charge them higher premiums.
Nearly 100,000 Americans on the transplant list are waiting for kidneys. For most of them, the wait is measured in years. In this limbo, 13 of them die every day. Increasing the number of living donors could change that. Kidneys from living donors tend to last longer than those from deceased donors, and recipients generally have better outcomes with living donation.
Legislation that protects living donors is a win-win. Lowering the barriers to living donation makes it more likely that people will consider becoming living donors, allowing more Americans with kidney failure to get off dialysis and go back to work.
Kidney transplants dramatically reduce taxpayers’ costs for kidney failure. Medicare spends $90,971 per patient per year on dialysis treatment, but only $34,870 per transplant patient per year. That makes encouraging living kidney donation not just good public policy, but also smart fiscal policy.
The national Living Donor Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 1270), sponsored by Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), would guarantee that living donors can take unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to undergo living donor surgery and recover from it without losing their jobs. It would also prohibit insurers from declining or limiting coverage of a living donor under any life insurance policy, disability insurance policy, or long-term care insurance policy, or consider his or her kidney donation status in determining premiums.
Many states have passed their own legislation to protect living donors and encourage living donation. In March 2018, Idaho enacted SB1302, becoming the first state in the nation to protect living organ donors from higher premiums or denial of insurance coverage based solely on their organ donation status. Also in 2018: Colorado passed the Living Organ Donor Support Act, extending paid leave to living donors by providing a voluntary tax credit to their employers; Maryland passed HB96, which gives living organ donors a tax credit of up to $7,500 to offset their expenses; and Maine’s legislature overrode a veto and passed HP13/LD12, which prohibits a denial of coverage or higher premiums for life insurance, disability insurance, or long-term care insurance for living organ donors.
The need for more living organ donors is great. Last year, only about 30 percent of the nearly 20,000 kidneys transplanted came from living donors. So far this year, more than 4,200 kidneys have been transplanted from living donors. But more than twice those numbers came from deceased donors. This isn’t nearly enough to help everyone who needs a new kidney.
The Living Donor Protection Act of 2017 has 81 bipartisan sponsors in the House of Representatives, but there’s no companion legislation in the Senate.
It’s not too late in this session of Congress to turn this act into law. Nearly 100,000 Americans on the kidney transplant waiting list, and their family members, would be most grateful.
LaVarne A. Burton is president and CEO of the American Kidney Fund.