Civil rights leader and TV host the Rev. Al Sharpton and musician and radio host Al B. Sure!, champion of the organ transplant patient community, are partnering to restore Medicare coverage for tests to detect early signs of organ rejection.
Together, they have established the national Healthy Equity in Transplantation Coalition, with Al B! serving as executive chairman and Sharpton as senior adviser. The coalition’s goal is to reverse the Medicare restrictions placed on blood tests by a private contractor, which tied coverage to invasive and risky surgical biopsies.
The move has led to confusion and declining use of such blood tests, which are non-invasive and can be taken at home.
"Black, Hispanic, Latino and underserved communities were given a lifeline with these non-invasive tests,” Sharpton said. “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."
Sharpton highlighted the bipartisan support the effort has received, including from the likes of former Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich.
"These blood tests are especially important to transplant patients in the Black, Hispanic, Latino, and underserved transplant communities," Al B! said. "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 U.S. currently faces a massive organ shortage. Notably, Black, Hispanic and Latino Americans make up 40% of organ transplants in the U.S. – compared to the 32% of the general U.S. population. And half of the people on the 100,000-person transplant waiting list are Black or Hispanic/Latino.
Half of all kidney transplants fail within 10 years, making organ transplant care essential.