Durbin, Cochran Introduce Legislation to Help Organ Transplant Patients

[Washington, DC] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) today introduced bipartisan legislation to improve the quality of life for people with kidney disease. The Comprehensive Immunosuppressive Drug Coverage for Transplant Patients Act would assist thousands of Americans under the age of 65 who are being cut off from Medicare payments for drug therapy after 36 months by extending coverage of immunosuppressive drugs for kidney transplant recipients.


“Of the 78,000 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.”


“I am pleased to introduce legislation that will enable end-stage renal disease transplant patients to receive the medications they need to ensure transplants are successful,” said Cochran. “This is especially important in states like MS that have a high incidence of kidney failure. A transplant is often the best option for these patients, and this important legislation would ensure that transplant recipients have access to the immunosuppressive drugs needed for full renal health.”


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 16,000 Americans in 2007 – 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.


“The National Kidney Foundation supports this critically important legislation. This bill will ensure that thousands of Americans can maintain 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 the waiting list. This legislation is a major first step towards accomplishing 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,” says John Davis, National Kidney Foundation CEO.


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 $71,000/year. Medicare would cover the cost of a transplant at $106,000/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.