Bills prohibiting insurer discrimination against organ donors wins bipartisan support

By: - February 28, 2022 12:03 am

The Virginia State Capitol. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Bills that would ban insurance companies from refusing or limiting coverage for living organ donors are advancing through the legislature with broad support.

 SB 271, introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, and HB 421, introduced by Del. Karrie Delaney, D-Centreville, would put Virginia among 20 other states that have anti-insurance discrimination legislation, according to the American Kidney Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides support to people suffering from kidney disease. 

Ebbin’s bill, which passed the House Appropriations Committee Friday on a unanimous vote, also requires employers to provide unpaid leave for donors.

“The unnecessary stress and burden posed by insurance problems can disincentivize those considering much-needed live kidney donations, which is a better process than kidneys donated by those who are recently deceased,” Ebbin said. 

Approximately 170 people have received organ transplants from a living donor in Virginia in “recent years,” Ebbin said at a Senate committee meeting earlier this month. 

However, HB 421, which was passed the Senate Thursday unanimously, only focuses on outlawing insurance companies’ practices limiting and restricting coverage for living organ donors.

“From the data perspective, they’re just as healthy if not healthier,” Delaney said. “There is no additional actuarial risk, yet some insurance providers are still tagging that status as a reason to deny or alter coverage.”

Chantilly resident Kat Velkoff decided to donate her kidney last year to a 24-year-old Virginia resident who had been waiting two years for a transplant, she said at a Senate committee hearing last month. During the testing period of the donation process, Velkoff was told that she would later have difficulties buying life insurance because having one kidney was considered a pre-existing condition, she said. 

“Living donors save lives,” she said. “They save insurance companies money on the cost of dialysis, and we deserve protection from insurance discrimination.” 

Besides providing unpaid leave for 60 days for organ donors and 30 days for bone marrow donors, under Ebbin’s bill, employers who have more than 15 workers would have to ensure that donors can return to their positions following the leave and can keep the same insurance benefits. Only 12 states have implemented similar measures for private employers, according to the American Kidney Fund.

Employers and insurance companies that violate the provisions of SB 271 would face civil penalties, and the commissioner of labor and industry will be in charge of enforcing the bill.

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Jackie Llanos Hernandez
Jackie Llanos Hernandez

Jackie Llanos Hernandez was a Virginia Mercury intern while studying journalism and anthropology at University of Richmond. Jackie grew up in Colombia before moving to Virginia. Jackie is also the investigative and multimedia editor at the independent student-run newspaper, The Collegian.