Rev. Al Sharpton has partnered with musician Al B. Sure! to launch a new health equity coalition focused on providing Medicare coverage for blood tests that could detect early signs of organ rejection in organ transplant recipients.
The Health Equity in Transplantation Coalition (HETC), announced on Tuesday, follows a March decision made by a private Medicare administrative contractor on behalf of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Coverage (CMS).
The decision, referred to as a billing article, restricts access to non-invasive post-transplant testing for patients with a heart, lung or kidney transplant. The article gave patients only a 30-day notice with no time for public comment before it went into effect. The contractor said the decision was made after it became aware of improper billing and overutilization of the tests.
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But the article has an undeniable effect on patients of color, said Sharpton.
“Black, Hispanic, Latino and underserved communities were given a lifeline with these non-invasive tests,” Sharpton said in a statement. “That was taken away in March 2023, when a private company decided Medicare would no longer cover this life-saving measure for transplant recipients, who overwhelmingly come from these communities. It’s time we reverse this decision and allow transplant recipients to have access to more and better tools – not less.”
Black, Hispanic and Latino Americans account for 40 percent of transplant recipients in the nation, according to the coalition. They also make up 50 percent of those on the 100,000 person transplant waiting list.
Instead of the blood tests, Medicare coverage is now extended to a surgical biopsy to determine organ rejection. But Al B. Sure! said these biopsies are invasive, and could be risky.
“These blood tests are especially important to transplant patients in the Black, Hispanic, Latino, and underserved transplant communities,” said the musician, who received a life-saving liver transplant in the summer of 2022.
“It makes no sense to take away Medicare coverage for these underserved transplant recipients who can take these blood tests at home rather than tying Medicare to an invasive biopsy that might require expensive travel, time off work for their patient and caregiver, and surgery in a hospital.”
The issue has become a bipartisan concern for congressional leaders. In August, a letter signed by 14 members of the House, led by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Michael Burgess (R-Texas), expressed concerns about the rollbacks sent to CMS. Eshoo and Burgess sent a follow up letter in October.
The coalition has now received support from former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), Sharpton said, and he hopes that the Congressional Black Caucus will join their efforts to restore Medicare coverage for the blood tests.
“Former Speaker Newt Gingrich and I worked together before in addressing the achievement gap in public education,” said Sharpton. “The fact that Newt and I are in lock step agreement — along with a broad bipartisan group of transplant patients, physicians and members of Congress — demonstrates how extremely abhorrent these attempted rollbacks are.”