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New Minnesota law boosts economic protections for living organ donors

New Minnesota law makes it easier to be an organ donor
New Minnesota law makes it easier to be an organ donor 02:05

MINNEAPOLIS -- A new Minnesota law prohibits providers of life, disability and long-term care insurance from charging higher premiums or refusing to cover living organ or bone marrow donors because of their donor status. 

It's a move supporters of the measure say will end unnecessary discrimination by insurance companies and will open the door for more people to give the gift of life.

"That's one of the number one questions I get asked from potential donors: What happens to my life insurance? What happens if I need to go get disability insurance? Can I go get it or will I be denied because I donated a kidney?" said Jen Anderson, who is on the board of director for the National Kidney Foundation in Minnesota. "This is a huge step that we took to help increase the number of donors."  

A Johns Hopkins University study in 2014 found 25% of people who changed or initiated life insurance after donation experienced difficulty doing so. More than 12% of them were denied coverage and 14.5% faced higher premiums.

Anderson is a passionate supporter of organ donation since she gave a kidney to her aunt when she was 19. It's an experience, she said, that profoundly impacted her life and pushed her towards advocacy.

She hopes that more Minnesotans will consider doing the same.

"This is a huge step we took to help increase the number of donors," she said.  

Jen Anderson and her aunt Judy Jen Anderson

More than 105,000 people need an organ transplant in the U.S., according to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Kidneys are most needed - with nearly 90,000 seeking one.

That includes about 2,000 Minnesotans on the waiting list for a kidney. 

One in five kidney transplants are made possible by a living donor, according to the American Kidney Fund. Andersons said 28 states passed similar laws to Minnesota barring discrimination by insurance companies. The state legislation approved a bill this spring.

The issue is personal for Rep. Kaohly Her, DFL-St. Paul, who sponsored the bill at the Capitol. She has a kidney disease for which there is no cure. She only has 50% function in both kidneys, she said, and will one day need a transplant because she'll experience kidney failure.

"I wanted to be part of a solution," Her said. "Not having these barriers my hope is that more people will choose to be donors."

She said particularly with people of color, there is a great need for bone marrow donors. Someone's best chance of finding a match is likely with a person of the same ethnic background, according to Be the Match, a Minneapolis-based organization that has a robust national registry of bone marrow donors.

"That has been a challenge," she said of getting more diverse donors. "I think removing these types of barriers could be an incentive to get more people screened and tested to see if they're matches for other people."

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