Act of Congress Offers Financial Incentive for Cord Blood Banking

Known as the “Family Cord Blood Banking Act”, new federal legislation in the United States will amend the I.R.S. (Internal Revenue Service) Code to allow couples and individuals to use “tax advantaged dollars” in order to pay for the banking of umbilical cord blood and the adult stem cells contained therein. Tax advantaged financial accounts such as FSAs (flexible spending accounts), HRAs (health reimbursement arrangements) and HSAs (health savings accounts), and variations thereof, will now be applicable to cord blood banking expenses.

The legislation was introduced yesterday in the U.S. House of Representatives by Ron Kind (D-WI), Artur Davis, (D-AL), Wally Herger (R-CA), Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NJ). According to Representative Ron Kind, the chief sponsor of the legislation and a member of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, “This legislation supports families that choose this potentially life-saving investment by providing tax incentives for these medical expenses.”

A number of private companies have announced that they support the legislation, including the Cord Blood Registry (CBR), which offers collection and preservation services of adult stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood. Currently, families are arbitrarily restricted by tax laws in the use of tax advantaged dollars and in the tax deduction of medical expenses. According to David Zitlow, senior vice president of public affairs and communications at CBR, “Families may pay for over-the-counter cough syrups or heartburn pills using these dollars, but not cord blood banking services. These limitations are unfair and even unwise. Families who opt to deposit into tax advantaged health accounts should have the discretion to spend those dollars as they see fit on qualified medical expenses.”

According to Dr. David Harris, the scientific director at CBR and a stem cell researcher at the University of Arizona, “Research and clinical trials involving cord blood will require more children to have a source of their own cord blood stem cells available for transplant. Consequently, legislation that makes it easier for families to bank cord blood will definitely speed up the time-table for life-saving research and will allow scientists to unlock the vast potential of these amazing cells on a much quicker basis.”

According to Matthew Schissler, CEO and founder of Cord Blood America, an international umbilical cord blood stem cell preservation company, “This would allow individuals and couples to pay for umbilical cord blood banking services through health savings accounts, flexible spending accounts, medical expense tax deduction and health reimbursement arrangements.”

Numerous organizations are involved in raising the awareness of, and lowering the financial barriers to, adult stem cell therapies derived from cord blood. In addition to CBR, other groups who have announced their support of the Family Cord Blood Banking Act include the Coalition for Regenerative Stem Cell Medicine and their member associations which include the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA), the Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health, the Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation, and the National Spinal Cord Injury Association (NSCIA), among others, as well as a growing list of other foundations, companies, university institutions, researchers and disease advocacy groups.

Umbilical cord blood has a history of clinical therapeutic use that predates World War II, and adult stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood have been used in over 14,000 transplants in the treatment of more than 70 different diseases just in the past 20 years alone. While donating to a public cord blood bank is free, private cord blood banking carries associated expenses which may be as high as $2,000 for the first year and $125 for each year thereafter. The advantage, of course, is that the donating family retains the right of exclusive access to their stem cells that are stored in private banks, whereas those who donate to public banks relinquish the right to any future access to their own stem cells. Now, however, the new legislation will lower the cost to families through the new tax incentives, which not only will allow more people to benefit from private cord blood banking but it should also increase the overall supplies of cord blood stem cells.

The harvesting of adult stem cells from umbilical cord blood is a safe and non-invasive procedure which begins with the simple collection of umbilical cord blood at the time of birth. The adult stem cells may then be used throughout the future not only as a therapy for the person who donated the cord blood, but also as a therapy for biological relatives of that person, and for anyone for whom such stem cells may be immunologically compatible.

The Cord Blood Registry (CBR) is the world’s largest stem cell bank. The company is involved exclusively in the collection, processing and storage of adult stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood for future medical use. CBR was the first family cord blood bank to be accredited by the AABB (the American Association of Blood Banks). CBR has been cash-flow positive since 1999 and has thus far stored and processed the umbilical cord blood of more than 260,000 newborns from around the world.

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