Opinion

Kidney donors save lives. They deserve job protection and access to insurance

If you’re in need of a lifesaving organ transplant, like the 114,000 people currently on the national transplant waiting list, where you live may limit your odds of getting an organ and getting off the waiting list. In California, 22,000 people – nearly 20% of those across the nation – await a lifesaving organ transplant. The vast majority of them are in need of a kidney.

But if the Legislature acts on recently introduced legislation, many of these Californians will benefit from laws protecting and encouraging living organ donation.

According to Donate Life, nearly half of Californians are registered as organ donors, but less than one percent of kidneys from deceased donors are viable. Low participation and lack of viable organs from deceased donors means many people on the waiting list for organs unfortunately will die waiting.

Because kidneys are among the few organs that can be transplanted from living donors, individuals look to friends, families and even kindhearted strangers for a living donation. For more than 19,000 Californians on the waiting list for a kidney transplant, a living donation represents a very real chance they can get off dialysis and return to a normal life.

Opinion

Donating an organ to save another person is a profoundly generous act that changes a life in immeasurable ways. Yet living organ donors often face significant short- and long-term obstacles to providing a kidney. The most common short-term hurdle donors face is getting job-protected time off work for surgery and recovery.

Another obstacle is the fact that insurance companies routinely deny or limit life, disability and long-term care insurance policies for living donors. If able to get a policy, donors are often charged higher premiums, despite there being no evidence living kidney donors are at higher risk than people with two kidneys.

In fact, a 2010 study in the Journal of American Medical Association found no difference in long-term risk of death for kidney donors when compared to a similar group of healthy people with both kidneys.

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LaVarne A. Burton

Passage of Assembly Bill 1223, authored by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, will ensure living donors are able to take 12 weeks of job-protected leave for living donor surgery. It will also prohibit life, disability and long-term care insurance companies from denying or limiting coverage, and from charging higher premiums for living organ donors.

This legislation is a win for all Californians. Lowering the barriers to living donation makes it more likely that people will consider becoming live donors. It will help Californians living with kidney failure to get off dialysis and go back to work – thus reducing reliance on public programs and expensive dialysis.

A growing number of states have passed their own legislation to protect living donors and encourage living donation. In recent weeks, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into a law a bill to prevent insurance discrimination against living donors. State legislatures in Maryland and Oklahoma passed similar bills that included job-protected leave. Through living donor protection legislation, along with donor and/or employer tax credits, states have acknowledged the value of encouraging living donation and protecting those who choose to give the gift of life.

It’s time for California to send an unequivocal message of support to living organ donors and all those who are considering living donation. Removing barriers and encouraging living donation recognizes the hardships and struggles of people with life-threatening illnesses like kidney failure.

I urge California’s legislators to take the necessary steps to help more Californians living with kidney failure to build lives unconnected from dialysis.

LaVarne A. Burton is president and chief executive officer of the American Kidney Fund.
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