Organ transplant group prepares lobbying campaign

The association representing organ procurement organizations (OPOs) is building its national legislative and regulatory presence as it prepares to stave off regulation under the healthcare reform law while pushing back against state budget cuts.

The Virginia-based Association of Organ Procurement Organizations (AOPO) announced Tuesday that it has hired Strategic Health Care to help with federal representation and education in the new year.

"Organ donation is a small component of our nation's health care system, and in an evolving health care environment, we must be proactive to ensure that donation is not adversely affected by government initiatives," AOPO President Jeffrey Orlowski said in a statement. "Unintended consequences could affect donor families and those waiting for a life-saving transplant."

More than 110,000 people await organ transplants in the U.S. The federally designated nonprofit organizations that coordinate organ and tissue donation have low operating margins, said Policy Manager Liz Hackett, and are worried that Democrats' healthcare reform law and state budget cuts could lead to a decrease in the number of organs and tissues available for transplants.

The new strategy comes as Arizona cut funding for the state Medicaid agency that pays for transplants for low-income patients, reversing the approval of organ transplants for 98 people who had previously been approved according to National Public Radio (NPR).

Hackett tells The Hill that Strategic Health Care was hired to help increase the organization’s presence and to help educate state and federal officials that "transplants are a cure, not a treatment" and are cost-effective in the long-run.

Strategic Health Care will also help AOPO to impress upon federal regulators that imposing further restrictions on transplant organizations will seriously disadvantage patients. While the new healthcare reform law does not directly cover transplants, Hackett said the organizations could be "pulled in unintentionally."

The law's "bundling" provision, for example, calls for Medicare to provide a single payment for a patient's care that would be divvied up among the different entities involved in the care: the hospital, physician specialists, and others such as organ procurement organizations. Hackett said that could potentially cut payments to OPOs that have limited resources and tight operating margins forcing them to cut back on services and programs that can increase the number of organs available to save lives.