NEW DATA ANALYSIS: Improvements in Dialysis Care Are Outpacing Other Serious Chronic Disease Conditions – Including Cancer and Heart Failure

March 4, 2019

The kidney care community lauds healthier outlook for individuals with complex End-Stage Renal Disease, savings to Medicare program during National Kidney Month

Improvements in dialysis care are outpacing outcomes for other chronic disease conditions, improvements that allow patients with End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) to live longer lives – and yielding substantial savings to Medicare – according to a new fact sheet created from the health care consulting firm Discern Health, which analyzed United States Renal Data System (USRDS) data.

An analysis of the USRDS data set by Discern Health reveals that, although ESRD patients are among the most complex and costly Medicare beneficiaries to treat, improvements in dialysis care have led to improvements that translate into larger gains in patient survival than other chronic conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart failure, stroke, and myocardial infarction.

In fact, USRDS data show the mortality rate for dialysis patients dropped by more than 26 percent between 1996 to 2016. Since 2007, mortality for Medicare patients receiving dialysis fell by 16.4 percent – exceeding rates for cancer (8.5 percent), stroke (3.6 percent), or diabetes (3.4 percent). Notably, some chronic diseases even saw worsening mortality, including heart failure (+1.9 percent) and myocardial infarction (+11.6 percent).

“Caring for individuals with chronic conditions has continually proven to be a strain on the nation’s healthcare system,” said Dr. Allen R. Nissenson, Chair of Kidney Care Partners. “While we still have much more work to do, it’s gratifying to see the kidney care community, despite managing the care needs of an extremely complicated patient population with many co-morbidities and Medicare reimbursement below the cost of care, has successfully found ways to enhance care, increase patient lifespan, improve quality of life for patients and reduce the nation’s healthcare burden.”

According to the review of current USRDS data, survival rates for patients receiving dialysis improved more quickly than survival rates for other diseases. Even though patients with ESRD have historically experienced higher patient mortality compared to many other conditions, advances in dialysis patient care can be credited with dramatically reducing those numbers.

“Especially during National Kidney Month, the kidney care community is overwhelmingly pleased that the efforts we’ve worked toward for more than a decade are making a notable difference in the lives of Americans with kidney failure,” added Dr. Nissenson. “Our partnerships with kidney care professionals and policymakers — and our united commitment to improve care quality — have clearly helped us move the needle in the right direction.”

Discern Health’s findings also show that, even with improved survival rates, per capita Medicare spending has decreased for dialysis patients compared to other chronic conditions, including cancer, diabetes, heart failure, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD), and stroke. Researchers attribute the savings to improvements in dialysis care over the past decade.

“It is truly remarkable that although Medicare reimbursement rates do not fully cover the cost of dialysis care, providers have still been able to make measurable gains in quality and survival,” added Dr. Nissenson, “It’s a private-public partnership model that should serve as an example for other provider groups as they work toward the same end goals.”