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CMS oversight, OPOs and transplant centers and the law of unintended consequences


Corresponding author: Richard J. Howard, MD, Department of Surgery, University of Florida, PO Box 100118, Gainesville, FL 32610, USA.
Tel.: (352) 265 0606;


Abstract:  The Health Resources and Services Administration launched collaboratives with the goals of increasing donation rates, increasing the number of organs transplanted, eliminating deaths on the waiting list and improving outcomes. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently published requirements for organ procurement organizations (OPOs) and transplant centers. Failure to meet CMS performance measures could result in OPOs losing their service area or transplant centers losing their CMS certification. CMS uses analyses by the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR) to evaluate a transplant center’s performance based on risk-adjusted outcomes. However, CMS also uses a more liberal (one-sided) statistical test rendering more centers likely to qualify as low performing. Furthermore, the SRTR model does not incorporate some important patient variables in its statistical model which may result in biased determinations of quality of care. Cumulatively, there is much unexplained variation for transplant outcomes as suggested by the low predictive ability of survival models compared to other disease contexts. OPOs and transplant centers are unlikely to quietly accept their elimination. They may take certain steps that can result in exclusion of candidates who might otherwise benefit from transplantation and/or result in fewer transplants through restricted use of organs thought to carry higher risk of failure. CMS should join with transplant organizations to ensure that the goals of the collaborative are not inhibited by their performance measures.