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Grassley on Donating Life

Q: What federal law did you steer through Congress to improve the nation’s organ transplant system?

A: Nearly 20 years ago, I launched an oversight investigation from the Senate Finance Committee to keep check on the nation’s organ donation system. For too long, I heard far too many stories of patients who lost their lives due to negligence and abuse of the system. Most recently, I worked to build a bipartisan consensus to secure historic reforms to the U.S. organ procurement and transplantation network. For almost four decades, one contractor held a monopoly over the system that controlled the collection and distribution of scarce organs. Signed into law in September, my bipartisan bill will bring transparency and competition into the mix to root out mismanagement, secure better patient outcomes and hold stakeholders accountable. A strong dose of sunshine will help weed out inefficiencies, incompetence and inadequate outcomes that have plagued the organ network across the board, including patient safety standards, questionable financial practices and thousands of organs left to waste rather than being utilized to save lives. Weeding out bad actors and underperforming organizations will allow more effective contractors with stronger expertise to step in and provide better services to help save lives and taxpayer dollars. Last month, Congress approved government funding that provides additional resources for the Department of Health and Human Services to implement the new law. I’m keeping close tabs on the federal agencies involved to ensure the reforms are executed as Congress intended to get the results patients and taxpayers deserve. I won’t rest until we make certain the government’s actions truly benefit patients.

Q: Why did you write a letter to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) in March?

A: UNOS is the organization that since 1986 has held the sole government contract to manage the entire organ transplant system across the United States. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and I have teamed up to hold the organization’s feet to the fire yet again. Another technology failure in November exposed a data breach that gave unauthorized access to at least 1.5 million patient records to Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) and DonorNet system users. The OPTN technology system maintains the waitlist for all organ transplant candidates in the United States. Last year, it facilitated more than 46,000 organ transplants for more than 100,000 patients on the waiting list. We’re keeping up bipartisan pressure in Congress to improve performance and restore the integrity of this lifesaving system. Gravely ill patients and generous donor families making selfless decisions, during a painful time in their lives, deserve to have confidence that the leaders, decision makers and team members involved from start to finish are accountable for their work and are treating their sensitive information with proper care. Opening the system to attract the most qualified vendors, from procurement, to matching, transportation and technology will bring competition to bear so that patients and donors are better served and providers and transplant centers are better equipped to save lives.

April is National Donate Life month. This is a good opportunity to learn more about the remarkable gift of life that millions of Americans have embraced for decades. In fact, 70 years ago the kidney was the first human organ to be transplanted successfully. Since then, more than one million organ transplants have been performed in the U.S. What’s more, the miracles of modern medicine have improved the prevention and treatment of rejection, opened doors to increase the pool of organs available to transplant and expanded hope for tens of thousands of patients and their loved ones. Did you know a donor can save up to eight people and transform the lives of 75 people through eye and tissue donation? According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, 17 Americans die every day waiting for an organ and every eight minutes, a patient is added to the waitlist. In Iowa, 637 people are currently on the waitlist. Iowans may register to be an organ, eye and tissue donor through the Iowa Donor Registry. Learn more athttps://organdonor.gov.

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