By Carrie L., Director of Congressional and State Relations

Recently, two bills relating to kidney and organ transplants have been introduced in Congress. Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois and Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi introduced the Comprehensive Immunosuppressive Drug Coverage for Kidney Transplant Patients Act of 2013 (S. 323) in the Senate, and Congressman Michael Burgess and Congressman Ron Kind introduced a companion bill (H.R. 1325) in the House. If passed, these bills will extend Medicare immunosuppressive drug coverage for kidney transplant patients under 65 years old for the life of the graft. Under current law, Medicare beneficiaries who are under 65, and therefore only eligible for Medicare due to their ESRD diagnosis, lose Medicare coverage 3 years after their transplant. Without the immunosuppressive drugs, the body will reject the transplant and a patient must go back on dialysis. Currently, these drugs cost about $24,000 a year while dialysis costs almost $86,000. This means it costs Medicare an additional $62,000 per year per patient that loses drug coverage. DPC fully supports this bill and will be working diligently with its cosponsors and with our partners in the kidney community to get it passed.

Additionally in February, the HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act was introduced in both the House of Representatives and Senate. The HOPE Act allows for the study of the safety and effectiveness of organ transplants from HIV-positive deceased donors to HIV-positive recipients. The act doesn’t make this type of donation possible, but allows researchers to determine if this is safe and effective. If studies find these transplants safe and effective, this procedure has the potential to lower waiting time on organ transplant lists for all patients, as experts estimate that an additional 500 organs each year could be available for transplantation. Congresswoman Lois Capps (CA-24) is the lead sponsor in the House and Senators Barbara Boxer (CA) and Tom Coburn (OK) are leading the charge in the Senate.

For some great news, the HOPE Act was passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee and positively recommended to the full Senate in March, the first step towards passage! DPC thanks all of these Members of Congress for their support of kidney patients across the country.

These bills have the potential to increase access to transplants for all kidney patients on the waiting lists. DPC and the kidney community will be working hard to garner as much support for these bills as possible and to get them passed into law!