Feb 7, 2024 - Health

Health officials ask for bids to run revamped organ transplant system

Illustration of a lung and brains organized in radial patterns.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The Biden administration has opened up applications to run a revamped network for distributing donated organs — but lack of funding could jeopardize those efforts, federal health officials said Tuesday.

Why it matters: This is the first time in four decades the government will solicit multiple contracts to run the organ transplant system, hoping to foster more competition and ultimately improve patient care.

  • More than 100,000 people in the U.S. are on the transplant list, and 17 people die waiting for an organ each day.

Yes, but: The "scope and scale" of the contracts awarded will depend on whether Congress appropriates more funding to support the modernized network, the Health Resources and Services Administration cautioned.

  • The Biden administration has asked for a $36 million increase over last year's budget to overhaul the organ transplant system.

Flashback: The nonprofit United Network for Organ Sharing has single-handedly run the country's organ transplant network for nearly 40 years.

Details: HRSA on Tuesday issued draft requests seeking multiple vendors to take over different functions of the transplant and procurement network.

  • The health department agency is also looking to create a new and independent board of directors for the organ network, which currently has the same board as UNOS.

What they're saying: "Now it's critical that HRSA listens to feedback and then [releases] transparent, accountable final solicitations based on patients' interests and open competition so that UNOS can be replaced by competent contractors operating in sunlight," said Jennifer Erickson, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists who worked on organ donation policy in the Obama White House.

What's next: Applications are due in June.

  • UNOS said Tuesday it will engage in the bidding process. Tech giants like Google and Microsoft, as well as smaller startups, have expressed interest in applying for contracts, Bloomberg Law previously reported.
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