By Lyle Dennis, Cavarocchi – Ruscio – Dennis Associates, Consultants to AASLD
As every hepatologist (and nephrologist, cardiologist, thoracic surgeon and others) knows, there is a quiet catastrophe that happens every day throughout the United States. People are dying while they are waiting for an appropriate organ donation to enable them to receive a life-saving transplant. More than 5,500 persons succumbed to their illness in this manner in 2017 alone. Whether it is liver, kidney, pancreas, heart or lung, there are currently more than 75,000 persons actively seeking a transplant according to the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network (OPTN).
By far the largest number is kidney, where about 60,000 persons are waiting, often while undergoing debilitating dialysis treatments. Number two on that list is liver, with about 11,000 persons currently awaiting transplant. In 2017, OPTN data show that about 20,000 kidney transplants and more than 8,000 liver transplants were performed. The common denominator between liver and kidney transplants, of course, is that both can be performed on living donors, under the correct medical circumstances.
Unfortunately, it is not a simple matter to find a living donor to give up a kidney or a lobe of the liver to another person. In addition to the medical issues involved, which are considerable, there are also financial issues for the donor and very little has been done to address those issues.
But, one state has moved forward with progressive legislation that seeks to make living donations more affordable.
Faced with more than 2,400 people on the waiting list for an organ transplant, the Colorado Legislature decided that it needed to act. It passed legislation that would offer up to 10 days of paid leave for living donors by providing a tax break for employers. Studies had shown that the average living donor lost about $2,000 of missed work due to the time needed to recover from the surgery.
The Colorado Living Donor Support Act would give employers a tax credit of 35 percent of the employee’s regular salary for up to 10 business days. Only those earning less than $80,000 per year would be eligible. The bill takes full effect in 2020.
Despite the demonstrated and overwhelming need for organ donations, very few states offer living donor benefits. By enacting this legislation, Colorado has demonstrated to the rest of the nation what can be done to address the problem. While this might not solve it, Colorado residents will be able to “do the right thing” without having to worry about taking time off from work and potentially losing income or even losing their job as they recover from this life saving surgery.