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It’s time to improve America’s kidney care

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As we pass the two-year anniversary of the world shutting down and shifting how we look at health and health care, it is important to reflect on how this virus disproportionately impacted certain disease populations — such as individuals living with chronic kidney disease (CKD), kidney failure and transplant—who are particularly vulnerable.  

CDC analysis revealed that thousands more living with kidney failure — or End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) — died during the first seven months of the pandemic than would have been expected during a pre-pandemic “normal” year. It’s a report that shines a light on how vulnerable kidney failure patients are and underscores why now is the time to step up our efforts to safeguard and improve their health and health care options. 

That’s why I’ve joined with Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) to introduce legislation that would raise awareness about CKD and while also improving access to treatment. The Chronic Kidney Disease Improvement in Research and Treatment Act (H.R. 4065) — joins similar Senate legislation to transform much of the way kidney care in this country is offered. 

One of the most dangerous aspects of kidney disease and failure is the silent nature of the disease: many Americans don’t even realize the dire nature of their kidney health until it’s too late. Often discovered incidentally, advanced kidney disease and failure can be irreversible and force patients into a lifetime of routine dialysis care to survive. 

That need for increased awareness, screening and education was a key driver of our support for this legislation. If passed, the law would expand kidney disease awareness and education by expanding the Medicare annual wellness benefit to include kidney disease screening. It would also increase access to the Medicare Kidney Disease Education Benefit and allow dialysis centers to provide critically needed education by expanding which medical professionals can offer the benefit. Access to these services would also be expanded to beneficiaries with Stage 5 CKD who are not yet on dialysis. 

Among the painful lessons from the past year has been the awareness that addressing health care emergencies largely depends on the system’s preparedness and capacity to respond. In terms of kidney disease and failure, the same is true: we cannot hope to continue caring for the increasing needs of a growing kidney care population — or improve the nature of treatment — without the needed resources to do so. 

For that reason, The Chronic Kidney Disease Improvement in Research and Treatment Act would create a system of economically stable dialysis treatment and incentivize innovation by refining the ESRD payment system to improve accuracy and support innovative therapies. It would also increase patient access to quality performance information by improving the accuracy and transparency of the ESRD quality programs by bettering patient decision-making and transparency by consolidating and modernizing quality programs. 

Along with the support of the nation’s kidney care community, I’m optimistic about the positive impact that passage of the Chronic Kidney Disease Improvement in Research and Treatment Act would bring to patients and our nation’s network of dedicated care providers, researchers, manufacturers and advocates. I hope all members of Congress will join me and support moving this bill toward swift passage. 

Congresswoman Terri Sewell represents Alabama’s 7th congressional district. 

Tags Chronic Kidney Disease ckd End-Stage Renal Disease ESRD medicare Terri Sewell Vern Buchanan

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