US investigates organ collection groups for potentially defrauding government

<span>A liver is prepared for transport after it has been removed from an organ donor in Jackson, Tennessee, on 15 June 2023.</span><span>Photograph: Mark Humphrey/AP</span>
A liver is prepared for transport after it has been removed from an organ donor in Jackson, Tennessee, on 15 June 2023.Photograph: Mark Humphrey/AP

US authorities are investigating organizations that coordinate organ donations over allegations that the non-profits are potentially defrauding the federal government.

The federal investigation, first reported by the Washington Post, is looking at several organ procurement organizations (OPOs) that secure organs for transplants within the United States.

A focus of the inquiry is investigating whether the organizations knowingly overbilled the Department of Veteran Affairs as well as Medicare, two agencies that reimburse OPOs for the procurement of organs.

The investigation is also looking into whether OPOs arranged kickbacks between organizations, the Post reported, citing one person with knowledge of the investigation.

The latest investigation, led by the Department of Health and Human Services as well as inspector general Michael Missal with the Department of Veterans Affairs, could lead to a mass overhaul of the organ transplant industry, the Post reported.

Missal and the Department of Health and Human Services did not return the Guardian’s request for comment.

At least six people with knowledge of the investigation told the Post that the inquiry has been taking place for several months. But it recently intensified as investigators visited the offices and homes of at least 10 chief executives at different OPOs.

In a message to its membership, the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations also acknowledged that federal investigators had visited several OPOs in February “as part of an inquiry”.

Lawmakers in recent years have attempted to reform the organ transplant system, which has been rife with issues.

Last March, the Biden administration announced that it would break up the monopoly on the US’s organ transplant system, the New York Times reported.

The organ transplant system for 38 years has been run by United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).

Within the system, a total of 56 organizations collect organs for donations and coordinate their transportation to US surgeons, the Post reported.

Several organizations for years have not collected enough organs to meet growing demand. But of the 56 organizations, none of have been decertified by the federal overseers, the Post reported.

A 2022 investigation by the Senate finance committee uncovered additional problems within the organ transplant system. The committee discovered that transporters had lost donated organs and that poor screening of donated organs led to 70 deaths between 2008 and 2015.

More than 100,000 Americans are now on the national transplant waiting list, with 17 people dying each day while waiting for an organ, according to the federal government.