ORGAN TRANSPLANTS: Shalala Comes Under Fire
At a congressional hearing yesterday on the Department of Health and Human Services' proposed revamp of the nation's organ transplant allocation system, "lawmakers grilled [HHS] Secretary Donna Shalala ... about her policy of giving scare organs to the sickest patients first." The new system is scheduled to take effect October 1, but has come under fire from regional transplant centers that fear they will be put out of business by the new policy as organs are directed to the larger centers that handle the sickest patients. The AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that many lawmakers appear poised to once again delay implementation of the system. Shalala defended the system as a way to equalize waiting times for transplants, but "said the agency is flexible about what the transplant community might propose, saying a new system could have a regional element."
The Local Cost
Several smaller transplant programs testified yesterday about potential damage to their viability under the new system. A hospital administrator from Virginia said "Virginia's transplant centers are likely to be hurt financially as they lose organs from the region to sicker patients around the country" (Hostettler, 6/19). House Commerce health and environment subcommittee Chair Michael Bilirakis (R-FL) testified that "his state has 'invested mightily" in building up the supply of organs for transplant, and worried that in a more national system, 'other states will see the fruits of their labors.'" (Rovner, CongressDaily/A.M., 6/19). And New Jersey's senators held a press conference yesterday to warn that "New Jersey's successful organ donation system could be harmed by" the new system, the Asbury Park Press reports. Sens. Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) "said the new proposal could mean long waiting times for New Jersey patients ... and fewer organ transplant opportunities for the state's low-income patients" (6/19).