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House Backs Controversial Delay of New Organ Allocation Policy

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About 68,000 Americans are waiting for a transplant, and 5,000 people die each year during the wait. But transplant centers, led by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), believe the new rules could put small facilities out of business, possibly jeopardizing patients.

An otherwise-deadlocked Senate has yet to pass either of the measures the House approved, and the organ controversy could contribute to further chaos before it can adjourn for the year.

Several key senators wrote saber-rattling letters to Lott pressing both sides of the issue. "We will do everything in our rights as senators" to ensure that only the 42-day delay holds, a bipartisan group of five wrote yesterday. Sen. Arlen Specter (R, Pa.), who chairs the Senate's appropriations panel for HHS and supports the new rules, wrote Lott separately to warn, "I do not want to join the chorus of members who make threats to tie up the legislative process, but enough is enough." But Sen. Jeff Sessions (R, Ala.) also wrote Lott to promise a full-court press against the Administration rules.

Senate GOP leadership staff defended the longer delay. "Congress has very strong feelings, and it is a very modest delay," one aide said. "It's just 48 days for Congress to have its voice heard," another staffer commented, adding, "Lott would have preferred a year moratorium."

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D, S.D.) appeared resigned to the GOP maneuver. "It shouldn't be in there. I wish it weren't in there," he told reporters. "[But] that's another issue that will have to be addressed next year."

According to Bill Applegate, a Washington official for the American Society of Transplantation, the issue is going to be red-hot next year. "This issue is not going to be put to rest with a simple moratorium," he tells WebMD. Noting that some lawmakers have introduced bills to take away much of the current federal oversight of the policy, he says, "You'll see this stuff the day they get back."

Meanwhile, the final HHS appropriations measure that the House approved yesterday 296-135 grants the department $239 billion, or $24 billion more than last year. Of that total, the NIH gets a healthy $17.9 billion -- $2.3 billion more than last year. The CDC's funding is $3 billion, about $190 million over last year's figure.

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