For Immediate Release
August 31, 2018–Washington, D.C.: The American Association of Kidney Patients (AAKP) today thanked U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta for his leadership and bold action to protect the job security of courageous Americans who wish to take time off from their jobs to donate their organs to patients in need of life-saving transplants. The Department of Labor issued a formal opinion letter stating that Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) coverage extends to organ donation and that eligible employees are entitled to unpaid and job-protected leave because related care procedures such as overnight and in-patient and follow-up care qualify. Founded in 1969, AAKP is the oldest and largest fully independent kidney organization in America and works closely with the Federal agencies and Congress to impact national kidney policy.
The clarification by Secretary Acosta is a massive victory for kidney patients due to a lack of certainty that has surrounded the applicability of FMLA protections to living organ donation. This uncertainty has existed among employers, employees who desire to use time off to donate an organ and among kidney patients who are often offered the gift of life from their family, friends and workplace colleagues. Under FMLA, eligible employees may take up to 12 work weeks of leave in a 12-month period for, among other things, a serious health condition that renders the employee unable to perform the functions of his or her job. AAKP, alongside kidney community allies including the American Society of Nephrology (ASN), the American Society of Transplant Surgeons (ASTS), the American Society of Transplantation (AST), the Renal Physicians Association (RPA) and multiple other kidney related organizations have long favored the clarification based on the original and very specific FMLA Congressional co-sponsor discussions related to organ donation.
AAKP President Paul T. Conway, a kidney transplant patient, stated, “AAKP extends our full gratitude to Secretary Acosta and the DOL team for listening closely to patient and medical professional concerns and for effectively removing a substantial barrier of uncertainty among Americans whose empathy, idealism and faith inspires them to become altruistic organ donors. This FMLA clarification will be immensely helpful to the kidney stakeholder community and our united effort to encourage more living organ donations for the tens of thousands of Americans who await a life-saving transplant and the opportunity to once again renew the pursuit of their aspirations, including careers marked by full-time work.” Conway is a former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Department of Labor and serves as the Chair of the Patient Engagement Advisory Committee of the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
AAKP Vice President Richard Knight, also a kidney transplant recipient, stated, “We are grateful to Secretary Acosta for honoring the concerns of patients and for his strong and appropriate use of Executive Branch authority to clarify FMLA protections for living organ donors. With the FMLA issue settled, AAKP will redouble our efforts, alongside our allies, in support of ongoing Congressional Branch attempts to secure additional legislative protections for altruistic organ donors.” Knight, a veteran Capitol Hill staffer and former liaison to the Congressional Black Caucus, serves on the Steering Committee for the Kidney Precision Medicine Project at the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIH/NIDDK).
Congress is currently considering, but has yet to pass, further protections for altruistic donors through the Living Donor Protection Act (H.R. 1270). The bill, sponsored by New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) has over seventy co-sponsors, and includes proposed protections for organ donors from discrimination in the availability and pricing of disability, long-term care and life insurance. The bill is supported by AAKP and kidney stakeholder allies including ASN, ASTS, AST, RPA as well as other kidney related organizations including the National Kidney Foundation (NKF).
For medically-eligible kidney patients, organ transplants are the best treatment available for kidney failure. Transplants help kidney patients either proactively avoid dialysis altogether through pre-emptive transplants or allow them to transition off of dialysis treatment dependency to enjoy a vastly improved quality of life. Currently in the United States, over 114,000 patients are on organ donation waiting lists and of those, over 95,000 are awaiting a kidney transplant.
Deborah Pelaez, Marketing and Communications Manager