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Rutinel: There is an urgent need to address Colorado's organ donation barriers

Feb 19, 2024

This story was originally published in the Colorado Sun here.

New bill would provide up to $40,000 in tax credits to those who donate a life-saving organ to a stranger

Imagine being stuck to a dialysis machine for over 12 hours a week. Imagine praying each day that an organ becomes available so you can live to see your son’s high school graduation or your daughter’s wedding. Imagine your child is waiting for an organ, uncertain if they will ever make their high school graduation or wedding. 

Tragically, far too many Coloradans die waiting for an organ each year — over 200 in 2021. Those who died were healthy enough to receive a transplant when they were initially wait-listed. They died because of a policy failure.

Colorado’s organ donation waitlist is not just a compilation of names; it is a ledger of lives suspended in limbo, families living in fear and individuals grappling with the daily struggles of disease while hoping for a second chance at life. Today, nearly 2,000 Coloradans are on this waitlist, each representing a person facing the excruciating anxiety of awaiting a life-saving call. For far too many of our neighbors, the call never comes.

The toll on those on the waitlist is immeasurable. The wait for a kidney transplant, for instance, can span several agonizing years, during which patients may endure the grueling ordeal of dialysis treatments three times a week for four hours each time. 

For too many, the wait is an ongoing battle with life-threatening conditions, resulting in a diminished quality of life, a constant stream of hospital visits, and the fear of not surviving until that life-saving organ becomes available. 

Beyond the emotional and physical suffering, there is also a tremendous economic strain on individuals, families and communities. The exorbitant cost of medical care for those awaiting transplants places an immense burden on them, potentially leading to financial hardship or even bankruptcy. Moreover, the ripple effects of organ shortages are felt throughout our health care system, resulting in longer wait times, poorer health outcomes and rising medical costs for the entire community.

Fortunately, the solution is straightforward: The Colorado legislature can remove the barriers to becoming a living organ donor. A large portion of Coloradans are healthy enough to donate an organ. And while hundreds of Coloradans donate an organ to a loved one or a stranger each year, many barriers remain, including significant financial burdens associated with lost wages, child and elder care, travel, and other costs. 

A recent study found that the financial cost of becoming a living kidney organ donor is approximately $40,000. But the benefits to society are exponentially higher.

These are problems that we can and must address. We are honored to bring bipartisan legislation to address this urgent issue: the Comprehensive Assistance, Recognition, and Empowerment (CARE) for Living Organ Donors Act (House Bill 1132). 

If passed, the CARE Act would remove the financial barriers to living organ donation by providing up to a $40,000 tax credit to individuals who donate a life-saving organ to a stranger. Because not everyone is a perfect organ match with their loved one, organ donors who donate to a stranger can create a chain reaction of agreed-upon organ donations, with some organ chains extending beyond 60 organ exchanges

Picture this scenario: A daughter discovers she is not a match to donate her kidney to her father, but she is the perfect candidate for another person in need. She agrees to give her kidney to this other person if her father receives a kidney from someone else. Thus, when a stranger donates to the father, this donation sets off an organ donation chain reaction that can save dozens of lives. 

Beyond removing financial barriers to living organ donation, the CARE for Living Organ Donors Act will also provide workforce discrimination protections and a special license plate available to living donors. Further, donors will be able to safeguard their loved ones by adding their names to a voucher list. In the event a named individual ever needs a kidney, they would be prioritized to receive one.

Organ failure is a crisis that affects thousands of Coloradans with real faces, real families and real suffering. We must address this issue head-on, and the CARE for Living Organ Donors Act is our answer to the growing need for action. So call and email your state legislator to tell them to support this legislation. The lives of thousands of Coloradans depend on it.

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