If you only watch, read, and listen to the mainstream media, it is reasonable to believe that members of Congress do nothing but bicker. The only stories that earn air time, ink, or tweets are those which the elite media deem the most important (read most entertaining) and focus only on the partisan fights of the day.
According to the elite media’s narrative, Republicans and Democrats never work together, Congress never solves any problems, and legislating has essentially ended on Capitol Hill.
However, this isn’t reality. In fact, members of Congress regularly work on reasonable, bipartisan legislation to make life better for Americans. One recent example which the media has ignored is the Organ Donor Clarification Act (ODCA). It was introduced in the House on July 19 and is supported by a 15-member group of Republicans and Democrats – as well as more than a dozen medical, political, and philanthropic organizations, including The Gingrich Foundation.
The central aim of the bill is to end the nationwide organ shortage and help get new organs to people who need them more quickly. It would achieve this by making it easier for healthy people to defray the costs of donation and by trying new ways to improve the donor system to incentivize healthy organ donation.
For many Americans, this is a matter of life and death. Every day, 20 people die while waiting for lifesaving organ transplants. The need for kidneys drives this problem. More than 80 percent of the 115,000 people awaiting organ transplants as of June needed kidneys. At the same time, healthy, transplantable organ donations have been in decline since 2006. It’s become so bad that the rate of need has now doubled the rate of transplant.
This organ shortage is also a matter of dollars and cents. People who need new kidneys require dialysis, which can be incredibly expensive. Medicare spending on patients on dialysis, for example, averages $87,000 per person annually. Dialysis is also taxing on the body and takes time – sometimes people require dialysis for up to a decade before receiving a transplant. So, people who are dependent on dialysis are necessarily less productive – and less fulfilled – than they could be otherwise. According to Congressmen Jason Lewis (R-MN) and Matt Cartwright (D-PA) – the bipartisan team leading the bill through the House – a successful kidney transplant pays for itself in less than two years – just by avoiding future medical costs, which can be as much as $745,000 over 10 years.
The ODCA also seeks to improve the rate of healthy organ donations by clarifying the law. Imprecise terms in current law that don’t clearly define what reimbursements donors can legally receive to lessen the costs of organ donation (coupled with serious criminal penalties for inappropriate reimbursements) have led to a chilling effect on willing, healthy donations. Clarifying this language will help donors get reimbursed quickly for things such as medical expenses and lost wages, hopefully increasing the number of donors.
The bill will also amend well-intentioned but outdated laws that prohibit government-run pilot programs from exploring how non-cash incentives could improve the rate of organ donation. Once this law is passed, federal health agencies could try offering health insurance, scholarships, or other non-fungible incentives to promote healthy organ donation.
In 2003, I wrote a book with Anne Woodbury and Dana Pavey called Saving Lives & Saving Money, which explored ways of transforming our health system so that it focused on (and fixed) the most deadly and costly issues facing Americans. The Organ Donor Clarification Act fits that model perfectly.
It is also evidence that real, important, effective lawmaking is still happening in the House and Senate – we just rarely hear about it.