Organ procurement organizations (OPOs) have been exploiting taxpayers for decades — NHL and NFL season tickets, board meetings in California wine country, private jets chartered for organ delivery but hijacked for CEO jaunts — all while failing to do what they’re supposed to do: procure organs for needy patients.
During a virtual hearing Tuesday, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), chair of the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, brandished what he said was the 2019 financial statement of the Nevada Donor Network and demanded that Joe Ferreira, head of the network and president of the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations (AOPO), explain the $6 million the network spent on “administrative and general expenses.” These included more than $140,000 for travel, meetings, and seminars, as well as over a half a million in unexplained expenses.
Krishnamoorthi also questioned Ferreira about his network’s season tickets to Las Vegas Golden Knights and Raiders games, as well as board retreats to Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley. Ferreira confirmed each expense one by one, but offered no additional comment on them.
Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) brought up a separate incident where an OPO CEO used a jet intended for organ collection to take a vacation.
“That literally happened,” she said. “This is not a hypothetical story with the jet.”
Each of these expenses “have nothing to do with recovering organs for ailing and dying patients on the organ transplant list,” Krishnamoorthi said.
On Taxpayers’ Tab
Medicare is responsible for all OPO costs — not OPO “extravagance” — and those costs are paid by taxpayers, said Krishnamoorthi, who informed Ferreira, along with a second witness, Steve Miller, AOPO CEO, that he would direct his committee to call on the organization to provide 5 years of itemized general and administrative expenses.
He also called attention to a report from the Project on Government Oversight that found that the AOPO was intentionally delaying Congress’s probe of the industry.
Krishnamoorthi read from an email that described a phone call that Ferreira participated in mid-January. Legal counsel recommended OPOs send Congress “‘slow and incomplete answers,'” to its inquiries, in the hope that “‘his team [Krishnamoorthi, according to the chair] gets distracted and moves on.'”
“Mr. Ferreira…you don’t think I’m going to be moving on from this investigation, do you?” Krishnamoorthi asked. Ferreira responded in the negative.
Krishnamoorthi stressed that he would continue to work to see that OPOs, and the AOPO, “live up to the standards that they should live up to” and stop wasting Medicare dollars.
Gaming the System?
During the hearing, Porter took out a mini-whiteboard to illustrate how OPO metrics allowed them to game their performance ratings, by undercounting the number of eligible deaths and eligible donors, making their rates of donation appear better than they were.
In 2019, the Trump administration proposed two rules aimed at increasing kidney donation by replacing self-reported measures with more objective performance standards, and by calling on all OPOs to meet the donation and transplant rates of the top performing quartile of OPOs. According to subcommittee ranking member Rep. Michael Cloud (R-Texas), the Biden administration reissued the final rule around organ procurement about a month ago.
The AOPO lobbied against those rules with concerns about “flaws in the design” and a “flawed dataset.”
But leaked emails, along with information from a whistleblower, suggest that the organization may have tried to intentionally obstruct increased oversight.
Porter asked Miller how he could have defended such weak metrics and opposed more objective standards.