Durbin, Cochran Introduce Legislation to Help Organ Transplant Patients

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Scott Brown (R-MA) today introduced bipartisan legislation to improve the quality of life for people with kidney disease.  The Comprehensive Immunosuppressive Drug Coverage for Kidney Transplant Patients Act would assist thousands of Americans under the age of 65 who are being cut off from Medicare after 36 months by extending coverage of immunosuppressive drugs for kidney transplant recipients. Also cosponsoring today’s legislation were U.S. Senators Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Ben Cardin (D-MD). Congressman Michael Burgess, M.D. and Congressman Ron Kind are planning to introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives within the next few weeks.


“Of the 89,000 patients waiting for an kidney transplant, those patients lucky enough to undergo a successful transplant should not have to worry about being able to pay for the medication that will reduce the risk of organ rejection,” said Durbin.  “In 2000, Congress passed legislation that provided older or disabled individuals lifetime coverage for immunosuppressive drugs through Medicare.  Today’s legislation will extend that coverage to all patients trying to live healthy lives after kidney transplants.”


“Our legislation is intended to help people with end-stage renal disease and offset long-term costs to the government for treatment of this condition.  Kidney transplants are often the best option for these patients, and this bill would help in providing the immunosuppressive drugs needed to make transplants successful.  In states like Mississippi with high incidences of diabetes and related kidney failures, extending this coverage to younger patients could mean improved health and quality of life,” Cochran said.


According to United Network for Organ Sharing, approximately 28,000 organ transplants were performed last year in the United States.  The vast majority of transplants – over 16,800 Americans in 2010 – are provided to patients in need of a kidney because they are living with End Stage Renal Disease, ESRD, or kidney failure. However, for thousands of working Americans who had not yet reached 65 and were not disabled, treatment was cut off after 36 months regardless of their ability to pay for lifesaving therapy that can run more than $1,000 a month.


“Extending coverage beyond 36 months for those suffering from end stage renal disease is just common sense. It’s good policy, it saves money, but most importantly, it saves lives,” said Brown. “No one should lose a transplant because they are not able to pay for the drugs to maintain it.”


“This legislation is a commonsense approach to both maximizing taxpayer money while increasing the quality of life for kidney transplant recipients,” said Dr. Burgess who is the Vice Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health and Chairman of the Congressional Health Care Caucus. “Without this legislation, transplant recipients face the potential of losing access to their immunosuppressive medications after 36 months which places them at a higher risk for losing their new kidney and being placed back on dialysis – a situation that has a proven higher cost to taxpayers and does not improve the quality of life.”


“Health care costs are the fasting growing area of spending in the national budget,” said Rep. Kind. “We should be doing everything we can to improve patient care while getting these costs under control and this legislation is a great step in the right direction. Providing kidney transplant patients access to the medication to ensure the success of their transplant helps keep health care costs down – by decreasing the need for further dialysis and the likelihood of a re-transplant - and the quality of life up – so that patients won’t have to worry about how they will pay for the medicine to maintain their health.”


The effects of the disparity in coverage are evidenced in the hypothetical case of a young woman.  A 26 year old woman living with ESRD would have lifelong dialysis covered by Medicare at $77,500/year. Medicare would cover the cost of a transplant at $110,000/transplant. The immunosuppressive drugs she would need to ensure the organ is not rejected by her body are only covered for 36 months and the drugs are far less costly at $10,000 to $20,000/year.  Without immunosuppressive drugs to keep kidney transplants from being rejected, many patients find themselves right back where they started: in need of a kidney. This circular cycle of care is costing taxpayers a lot of money and putting thousands of lives at risk.


“The National Kidney Foundation commends Senators Durbin and Cochran for their leadership on this critically important legislation. This bill will ensure that thousands of Americans can keep the transplants they have, allow thousands more to be transplanted and reduce the need for re-transplants of people who can no longer pay for vital medication and end up back on dialysis and the transplant waiting list. This legislation is a major first step towards achieving the goal of the National Kidney Foundation's END THE WAIT! initiative to find solutions to the organ shortage and eliminate the all-too-long wait for a transplant," said Lynda Szczech, MD, National Kidney Foundation President.


“The American Society of Transplantation representing the majority of professionals engaged in the field of transplantation applauds Senator Durbin for his strong commitment to improving the lives of transplant donors and recipients. The Durbin-Cochran Immunosuppressive Drug Coverage for Kidney Transplant Patients Act of 2011 saves both lives and costs to the federal government.   It is a common sense and practical policy proposal to improve the nation's transplant system...bringing greater efficiencies to the Medicare system,” said Dr. Robert Gaston, President, American Society of Transplantation.


"Extending lifetime coverage for immunosuppressive drugs is the right thing to do for patients.  It guarantees patients' quality of life, saves transplanted kidneys, and saves dollars," said Joseph Bonventre, M.D., President, American Society of Nephrology.