Congress must protect vulnerable chronic kidney patients

A patient receives dialysis treatment
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
In this Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, file photo, a patient undergoes dialysis at a clinic in Sacramento, Calif.

Even as COVID-19 cases have dropped from previous highs, new variants and subvariants of COVID-19 still have the potential to threaten high-risk individuals. In particular, we must remain focused on protecting Americans who remain most vulnerable to COVID-19, including those living with chronic kidney disease (CKD).

America’s kidney patient population, or roughly 15% of all U.S. adults, continue to be in greater jeopardy than the general population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) data show that a whopping 61% of Medicare beneficiaries hospitalized with COVID-19 have been diagnosed with CKD. Patients receiving maintenance dialysis are even more vulnerable. According to one study, the odds of COVID-19 infection for these patients was 17 times higher for those in congregate treatment settings. The same study found that “among maintenance dialysis patients with COVID-19, mortality is high, exceeding 20 percent.”

The reality is that kidney patients are susceptible to the deadly coronavirus due to 1) their compromised immune system and the existence of other comorbidities, such as heart disease, and 2) because many of the sickest patients are forced to congregate in outpatient care settings to receive treatment for their disease. While many immunocompromised kidney patients are afraid to leave their homes for non-essential reasons, sometimes, the requirements of treating a chronic disease leave them with few options.

This threat of viral transmission among kidney patients visiting hospitals, outpatient care settings, dialysis facilities, and infusion centers continues to be a fundamental concern—especially when there are safe, effective ways for some CKD patients to be treated at home.

This anxiety is especially real for dialysis patients, as well as those living with iron deficiency anemia (IDA). This common and costly condition that can cause severe health issues, including cardiovascular complications and increased mortality. Although IDA is typically treated with intravenous (IV) iron infusions, the nature of the current health crisis creates additional risk for patients who must visit infusion centers for treatment. Given the highly infectious nature of the omicron variant, kidney patients, including many of our constituents, are worried.

Congress must immediately take steps to ensure immunocompromised patients have access to effective treatments that can be taken safely at home. That’s why we are proud to have introduced the bipartisan Renal Anemia Innovation Support and Expansion (RAISE) Act (H.R.2934). This legislation represents a much-needed regulatory update to the Medicare program that will allow thousands of high-risk CKD patients to safely treat their IDA in the home setting by taking an alternative FDA-approved oral therapy — thus avoiding unnecessary contact with others while reducing strain on our already embattled health care system.

As COVID-19 enters an endemic phase, it is critical Congress pass commonsense legislation that gives vulnerable kidney patients the option to treat renal anemia at home. The RAISE Act is a solution that is supported by doctors, safe for patients, and good for America’s overburdened health care system. We urge our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join us in supporting this necessary piece of legislation.

Tom O’Halleran is the U.S. Representative for Arizona’s 1st District and Larry Bucshon, M.D. is the U.S. Representative for Indiana’s 8th District.

Tags Chronic Kidney Disease ckd COVID-19

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