Wicker, Hyde-Smith Challenge New Liver Transplant Policy That Would Adversely Affect Mississippi

Senators Ask HHS Secretary for Answers on Policy that Diverts Donated Livers to Other Regions

January 24, 2019

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., today challenged a new policy that could divert livers donated for transplant in Mississippi to other regions of the country.

Wicker and Hyde-Smith are among 22 senators who signed a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar that questions actions by the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) in developing a new national liver distribution policy.

The new model would allow donated livers to be sent to organ recipients up to 500 miles away from a donor hospital before becoming available to local and in-state recipients, thus diverting livers toward larger metropolitan cities. It effectively penalizes regions like the South and Midwest which have higher rates of donation than other regions in the United States. 

The senators outlined their concerns that “the negative effects of this new policy could be most severe for rural, low-income populations.”

“We look forward to better understanding how the Department will assure Americans that livers are fairly distributed across the country,” the senators wrote.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center, which has the only liver transplant program in Mississippi, has excelled under the previous policy that based transplant candidate selection in relation to where the donors lived.

Other concerns listed in the letter include:

  • The extent to which OPTN considered adverse effects on low-income and rural communities;
  • Why the plan rewards poor-performing organ procurement organizations;
  • Claims that OPTN did not consider all public comments; and
  • Assertions that OPTN did not give sufficient consideration to increased costs under the new plan.

“These fundamental missteps make us question the OPTN process and the oversight the Department of Health and Human Services is conducting,” the senators wrote.

The letter, led by Senators Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., was also signed by: 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senators Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., John Boozman, R-Ark., Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Doug Jones, D-Ala., James Lankford, R-Okla., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Rand Paul, R-Ky., Gary Peters, D-Mich., Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Tim Scott, R-S.C., Richard Shelby, R-Ala., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Todd Young, R-Ind.

A copy of the correspondence is available here.