Expanding access, supporting research and sustaining Medicare for individuals with Kidney Disease

June 12, 2017

Published by The Hill Congress Blog
Written by Rep. Tom Marino

Though our nation, and our politics, has become increasingly divided over the years, there are some issues that still unite both sides of the aisle. Caring for Americans living with kidney disease and kidney failure has been one of those unifying issues. These health conditions are so fundamentally life-altering and indiscriminate that both Republicans and Democrats have long found common ground in helping those Americans affected – and have continued to do so for four decades and counting.

Since 1972, all Americans diagnosed with End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) – more commonly known as kidney failure – have been able to depend on Medicare to pay for their care, regardless of age or income. This and another set of complex, multifaceted, and ever-evolving policies assist a growing number of Americans who rely on lifesaving dialysis care after their kidneys fail.

Today, nearly 45 years after Congress first committed to ensuring all Americans access to kidney care, we again find ourselves with the opportunity to enact bipartisan legislation that stands to save lives, while modernizing how our nation cares for patients with kidney failure and Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD).

In May, I along with my colleague Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) introduced the Chronic Kidney Disease Improvement in Research and Treatment Act of 2017 (HR.2644). This legislation will improve research and education so that we can better understand the disease process, enhance current treatment technologies, and address the growing epidemic of kidney disease in minority communities.

Reform cannot come soon enough. Currently, 17 percent of Americans suffer from CKD or ESRD, which is frequently caused by a combination of high blood pressure, diabetes and genetics. Claiming more lives each year than breast or prostate cancer, kidney failure is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. In 2014, over 48,000 Americans died of it in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Though we have the technology to detect and treat CKD with early intervention, many Americans do not undergo the required screenings because the disease’s alarmingly silent progression means that it can reach advanced stages with few noticeable symptoms. That is why we need to put a premium on education and outreach, to ensure more people get the care they need early on before it is too late.

Passage of this important, bipartisan legislation will be critical to addressing the growing epidemic of CKD and ESRD affecting our population. It is important to the health of patients as well as the health of Medicare as a whole, since government expenditures attributable to these conditions are cost the Medicare program billions annually.

Congressman Lewis and I, along with our co-sponsors, are confident that this legislation will result in fundamental improvements that will benefit our nation.

We feel strongly that Americans with ESRD and CKD should have freedom of choice when selecting their care providers, which is why the bill allows individuals diagnosed with kidney failure to access managed care, purchase Medigap coverage and other private insurance, and take advantage of home dialysis services.

Moreover, we know that despite how far we have come in terms of research and education, we have a long way to go. Understanding the unique role of kidney disease in minority populations, as well as barriers to their care, is necessary to slow the disease’s progression. That is why this bill requires the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a specific set of recommendations on how to address this issue. Furthermore, the bill provides incentives for health professionals to work in underserved areas.

Although current events might make it seem as though Republicans and Democrats do not agree on much, this bill proves that it is possible to come together to address issues critical to the nation’s health. I urge my colleagues in the House to join us in safeguarding the health of Americans with kidney disease, just as Congress promised to do so many years ago.

Marino represents Pennsylvania’s 10th District and is co-chairman of the Congressional Kidney Caucus.