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US government announces plan to overhaul organ transplant system

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

The US government announced a plan Wednesday to overhaul the country’s organ transplant system.

The US Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration said it will focus on accountability and transparency by seeking more contracts to operate the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network and sharing data more transparently.

The system has only ever been managed by the nonprofit United Network for Organ Sharing, which has been recently criticized for its handling of organs, long waitlists for transplants and the number of deaths among people waiting: about 6,000 per year. There are currently more than 100,000 people in the United States waiting for an organ transplant.

In a statement, HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson said that oversight of organ transplants is a “top priority.”

“That is why we are taking action to both bring greater transparency to the system and to reform and modernize the OPTN. The individuals and families that depend on this life-saving work deserve no less,” Johnson said.

The agency said a new data dashboard will provide details about individual transplant centers and organ procurement, including information about organ retrieval, waitlists, transplants and demographics. The move will also modernize the OPTN information technology system — which was called “outdated, mismanaged and insecure” in a Senate Finance Committee report last year — to improve governance and increase transparency.

“HRSA recognizes that while modernization work is complex, the integrity of the organ matching process is paramount and cannot be disrupted,” the agency said in a statement. “That is why HRSA’s work will be guided by and centered around several key priorities, including the urgent needs of the more than 100,000 individuals and their families awaiting transplant; the 24/7 life-saving nature of the system; and patient safety and health.”

HRSA noted that President Joe Biden’s 2024 budget proposal sought increased funding for organ procurement and transplantation — a total of $67 million — and that it requests that Congress update decades-old rules around appropriations and contracts for organ transplants in order to increase competition.

UNOS said in a statement Wednesday that it supports the government’s plan and welcomes “a competitive and open bidding process for the next OPTN contract to advance our efforts to save as many lives as possible, as equitably as possible.”

“We believe we have the experience and expertise required to best serve the nation’s patients and to help implement HRSA’s proposed initiatives,” it said.

A report released last year by the Senate Finance Committee found 70 deaths from 2010 to 2020 due to system failures within the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network, 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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