The shortage of transplant organs remains a major dilemma in U.S. healthcare, but the federal government just decisively removed one potential impediment for living donors. In an opinion letter issued by the U.S. Department of Labor, acting administrator Bryan Jarrett asserted that employees are protected by the Family Medical Leave Act when they request time off in order to undergo the procedure necessary to donate an organ.
According to the letter, since donating an organ typical requires at least an overnight hospital stay, it qualifies as a “serious health condition” as defined by the law. Under the provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act, employers must allow workers to take unpaid leave for medical reasons without fear of repercussion.
Although the opinion letter was issued in response to a citizen request for clarification — which is common procedure for new and revised U.S. Department of Labor guidances — there were also congressional pressures at play. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash, successfully pushed for a provision in the most recent Labor, Health and Human Services’ funding bill calling for a clear statement on federal protections for living organ donors.
For patients and healthcare advocates, the hope is that additional federal support will help smooth the way for potential organ donors who have concerns apart from the procedure itself.
“This will change many people’s minds, especially those who aren’t financially secure,” Bel Kampach, a Minnesota college professor who recently underwent liver transplant surgery, tells the St. Cloud Times.
“Living organ donation not only saves lives, it saves money,” the National Kidney Foundation says in a statement. “Each year, Medicare spends $87,000 per dialysis patient and less than half, $32,500, for a transplant patient. Encouraging living organ donation by providing job protection for employees who become organ donors is a smart business decision and the right thing to do.”
Legislators now plan to use the U.S. Department of Labor decision as a springboard to passage of the Living Donor Protection Act, which prohibits insurance companies from discriminating against living organ donors. The bill was introduced in early 2017, but hasn’t moved forward since.
Main image: In this Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018 photo, SLUCare transplant surgeon Dr. Chintalapati Varma physically grabs the kidney from the body of living organ donor Robyn Rosenberger during surgery at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital in St. Louis. (Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)