For the first time, the national Organ Procurement and Transplant Network may be opened up to organizations other than the nonprofit United Network for Organ Sharing.
The system has only ever been managed by UNOS, which has drawn criticism for its handling of organs, long waitlists for transplants and the number of deaths among people waiting: about 6,000 per year. More than 100,000 people in the United States are now waiting for an organ transplant.
Last week, the US House and the US Senate voted in favor of opening up the OPTN to other groups through a competitive contract process. The contracts would be overseen by the Health Resources and Services Administration, under the US Department of Health and Human Services. The bill has been sent to President Joe Biden, to be signed into law.
A report released last year by the Senate Finance Committee found 70 deaths from 2010 to 2020 due to system failures within OPTN, as well as significant opportunities for improvement in how the nation manages organ transplants. “From the top down, the U.S. transplant network is not working, putting Americans’ lives at risk,” the report said.
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Part of Biden’s 2024 budget proposal sought increased funding for organ procurement and transplantation – a total of $67 million – and requests that Congress update decades-old rules around appropriations and contracts for organ transplants in order to increase competition.
In response to the Senate’s passage of the bill, HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson said in a statement that “The Health Resources and Services Administration shares Congress’ goal of making the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) work better for the more than 100,000 people on the waiting list for organs. Individuals on the wait list, organ donors, and their families deserve an OPTN governed by an independent, representative board and supported by best-in-class technology, processes, policy, and people.”
CNN’s Jamie Gumbrecht contributed to this report.