Bill Reversing Ban on HIV Organ Donation Set for House Markup

Two bipartisan health bills are slated to be marked up by the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week, including legislation similar to a measure that breezed through the Senate last month.

That bill (HR 698) would allow research on organ donation from individuals who are HIV-positive, reversing a decades-old ban and potentially paving the way for organs from HIV-positive donors to be transplanted into patients who are also HIV-positive. The Senate passed companion legislation (S 330) by unanimous consent on June 17 that incorporated changes supported by House sponsor Lois Capps, D-Calif.

The bill appears poised to advance, given its track record in the Senate, which means it could join the relatively short list of health care accomplishments for the 113th Congress if no opposition emerges. Unlike most legislation related the 2010 health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152), the measure has a diverse group of supporters from both sides of the aisle.

"This is one of those issues that worked out very well because there was bipartisan interest in both houses," said Maryland Rep. Andy Harris, the lead Republican co-sponsor of the House bill. "That’s why I believe it’s going to succeed this week."

The other health bill (HR 2094) scheduled for the markup would gives states preference for asthma grant funding if they meet certain requirements designed to help schools prepare for responding to allergic reactions.

An Energy and Commerce aide said the panel expects "a smooth markup with strong support" for the measures, which the committee will take up Tuesday and Wednesday.

Under the organ donation bill, a 1988 provision (PL 100-607) that outlawed organ donations from HIV-positive individuals would be repealed and the Health and Human Services Department would be directed to set up guidelines for researching organ transplantation from those donors. If a review of the research shows that the transplants are safe and effective, HHS would instruct the network that maintains the national organ-matching system to change the current standards.

Harris called it "a common-sense bill that modernizes our policy toward donation by HIV-positive donors to HIV-positive recipients." He also said he hopes the measure can be considered under suspension of the rules, an expedited procedure that requires a two-thirds majority for passage.

"The process has been validated in other countries and it’s about time we, you know, make use of those organs here in the United States," he said.

In a statement, Capps also said she was encouraged that the measure had been scheduled for markup and expressed hope that it would become law quickly.

"The HOPE Act is the result of bipartisan and bicameral collaboration and is critically important for transplant patients across the country," she said.

Under the other bill, states that require public elementary and secondary schools to allow trained school personnel to give epinephrine to students who appear to be having an anaphylactic reaction would receive a funding preference for asthma-related grants. To get the preference, the states would also have to require schools to keep a secure supply of epinephrine that can easily be accessed by the trained individuals and have a plan in place that ensures at least one trained person is on school premises during school operating hours. In addition, the states’ attorneys general would have to certify that their laws offer "adequate civil liability protection" to the trained personnel.

"A systemic allergic reaction can kill within minutes. To prevent a fatal outcome, we need to make epinephrine pens available in our schools," Tennessee Republican Phil Roe said in a statement introducing the bill.

Roe dropped the measure in May with Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, who noted in the release that he has a grandchild with a severe food allergy. It currently lacks companion legislation in the Senate.

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