ORGAN SHARING: UNOS Shifts Policy On Heart Distribution
The United Network for Organ Sharing may be toning down its opposition to new organ distribution rules favored by the Department of Health and Human Services. The nonprofit group charged with managing the national transplant system is changing its policy on heart distribution, "dramatically" altering the way patients are assigned priority status to receive one of the 2,400 hearts donated annually. The new policy bases priority "status on medical criteria rather than on where the patient is -- intensive care or outpatient, for example," today's Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. Federal officials see the new UNOS policy as a step closer to the HHS organ distribution proposals UNOS has sought to block. The new UNOS heart policy is closely in line with two provisions of the HHS plan: Organs are distributed to the sickest patients in the nation first, and common medical criteria are created for potential transplant patients. The UNOS plan also stipulates that "pediatric patients will be given preference when younger hearts are available."
UNOS has campaigned against the HHS organ distribution plan, going to Capitol Hill last month to seek help in blocking the new policy. But the federal Health Resource and Services Administration's John Nelson said he takes the group's new heart policy "as a sign that UNOS is backing away from the heated rhetoric that has characterized its fight with" the federal government. "Clearly, this is consistent with what we're asking for generally. This bodes well for the other organs," Nelson said. Former UNOS President Dr. Larry Hunsicker announced the policy change at the group's board meeting June 25. "This improved system ensures that patients who have the most urgent medical need for a transplant and who have a high likelihood of survival following surgery will have the best chance of getting a heart," Hunsicker said (Hostetler, 7/9).