The House is poised to pass a bill that would ban for-profit eye banks from operating in the state.
HB 563, sponsored by Democratic Rep, Dan Daley, is expected to get a vote by the full House on Monday.
Proponents say the bill is needed to keep organ donations flowing. Donors, they say, are squeamish about their tissue being sold as a commodity.
“My concern is that when it gets out that somebody’s parent donated eye-tissue to a for-profit entity with investors and shareholders and everything else, I think you’re going to see a decline in folks willing to donate,” Daley told Florida Politics.
“I mean, I’m a little uneasy donating blood because I know that there are for-profit blood banks and I don’t like the idea of somebody profiting off of donated blood. It’s the same thing here. We’ve got one of the highest rates of donors in any state and I’d hate to see a decline in that because it started to get out that we had a for-profit operator in the space.”
Federal law prohibits companies from buying or selling organs outright, but statute is silent on fees for other work required to facilitate transplants — organ transport, for instance, is a chargeable service.
Eye transplants have turned into a major business over the past few years, when CorneaGen started gaining traction. The for-profit company was spun-off from a nonprofit called SightLife.
“For all intents and purposes, 99.9% of eye banks are nonprofit and frankly should be nonprofit,” Daley argued.
“All of a sudden, in the last two years or so, they’ve begun to flip to a for-profit entity. And they do it under the guise of, ‘Oh we’re doing research. We’re conducting research. Our investors care about research.’ I don’t think those two go hand-in-hand. I don’t know how somebody invests money in a profit-making entity for the sake of research.”
SightLife performed more than 36,000 cornea transplants in 2018, or about two-fifths of the 85,000 transplants recorded by the Eye Bank Association of America.
CorneaGen CEO Monty Montoya told WFSU last month that profits go toward research, with the ultimate goal of ending corneal blindness by 2040.
The company’s website claims it is “the largest provider of corneal tissue for transplant in the world.”
“CorneaGen’s skilled technicians have processed more than 45,000 corneas and we offer a comprehensive selection of the highest quality tissue,” it continues.
Members of the medical community and the not-for-profit eye bank sector aren’t buying the benevolent end goal, asserting that the Seattle-based company is on course to launching an IPO in the near future.
Companion legislation in the Senate, SB 798 by Sen. Darryl Rouson, is also prepped for a vote, making Monday’s Special Order Calendar.
Each bill specifies that a “for-profit eye bank may not engage, directly or indirectly, in the procurement of any eye, cornea, eye tissue, or corneal tissue for use in live-cell corneal transplantation.”
The provision wouldn’t apply to hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers. If successful, it would go into effect on July 1.