Moran, Blunt denounce ‘disgusting’ collusion, bias in national liver transplant policy

GOP senators allege policy delays transplants for Kansas, Missouri patients

By: - December 28, 2021 6:54 pm

Sen. Roy Blunt speaks at a hearing reviewing the coronavirus response effort on Sept. 16, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images)

TOPEKA — U.S. Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Roy Blunt of Missouri expressed outrage at evidence of bias in the United Network for Organ Sharing’s policy of distributing livers from states with high donor rates to areas of the country underperforming in donation of lifesaving organs.

The Republicans said UNOS’ policy resulted in patients from Kansas, Missouri and other Midwestern or Southern states having to wait longer for liver transplants.

In the 1980s, Congress made UNOS the exclusive contractor for organ procurement and allocation for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The senators said court-ordered disclosure of UNOS communications demonstrated the process relied upon to craft the nation’s liver transplant policy was “deliberately designed to deny patients in the South and Midwest their fair chance at a lifesaving liver transplant.”

UNOS unsuccessfully fought disclosure of emails among top-level personnel and outside policymakers, arguing a decision publicizing their communications could open floodgates to plaintiffs using “Trojan horses for irrelevant material.” Documents released as a result of a November decision of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals included emails that featured disparaging comments about people living in the South.

“These newly released emails are disgusting and absolutely unacceptable,” Moran and Blunt said in a statement. “They show clear collusion by UNOS and several organ procurement organizations prior to the liver allocation policy being announced, leaving no doubt that the liver allocation policy must be overturned.”

Blunt and Moran said the federal Department of Health and Human Services should reverse the liver allocation policy adopted by UNOS.

UNOS said the organization’s liver and kidney allocation policies had expanded equitable access to organs for patients on the national waiting list. The liver allocation policy was adopted in February 2020, while the kidney policy followed in March 2021.

“These policies expand equitable access to lifesaving organs,” said Brian Shepard, chief executive officer of UNOS. “We continue to make progress through robust policy development, improving the highest performing organ donation and transplantation system in the world.”

He said the liver policy funneled organs to the sickest patients, especially adults with the most medically urgent needs, regardless of where they were listed for transplant.

Several hospitals and transplant centers filed lawsuits that claimed UNOS policy made it more difficult for people outside urban areas, most significantly socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals, to access organs.

This story was originally published in the Kansas Reflector. 

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter is Senior Reporter for Kansas Reflector. He's reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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