Proposed bipartisan kidney legislation takes on kidney disease epidemic in America
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It wasn’t that long ago that kidney disease was considered a terminal illness. The first successful kidney transplant occurred just 69 years ago and the first dialysis clinic opened 12 years later. Our health care system took longer to respond – it was another decade before a Medicare program was established to help pay for dialysis treatments and a national registry for organ donation matching wasn’t created until the late 1980s.

Since I started caring for patients in 1976, I have been proud to watch – and participate – as the kidney care community works together to improve the quality of care individuals receive. Today, individuals with kidney disease are getting diagnosed sooner, have more choices in care than ever before, and are living longer, healthier lives, but we are acutely aware that there is more work to be done and we know that none of this could have been achieved without collaborations with Congress and the administration. Individuals with kidney disease deserve new forms of care that are even more effective, more convenient, more accessible, and more affordable than what we can provide today.

So, it’s incredibly important that after many years of progress in kidney care quality, lawmakers are responding with powerful legislation to help us take that next leap forward – tackling challenges our community faces from a multitude of angles, and raising the bar on how we, as a country, tackle this growing heath epidemic.

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Recently, Sens. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOvernight Health Care: Democratic gains mark setback for Trump on Medicaid work requirements | Senate Dems give Warren 'Medicare for All' plan the cold shoulder | Judge strikes Trump rule on health care 'conscience' rights Democrats give Warren's 'Medicare for All' plan the cold shoulder Former NAACP president to run for Cummings's House seat MORE (D-Md.) and Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Alcohol industry races to save tax break by year-end deadline McConnell, GOP leaders say they won't be watching House impeachment hearing MORE (R-Mo.) introduced the bipartisan Chronic Kidney Disease Improvement in Research and Treatment Act of 2019 (S. 1676), which provides a clear roadmap for the future of kidney care. It addresses not only the enormous needs of those Americans with kidney failure, but also the educational and preventative needs of the millions living with (or at risk of developing) chronic kidney disease. If passed, it would raise critically needed awareness, incentivize innovation, improve care, and empower the millions who find themselves battling against this life-changing illness.

The kidney care community nationwide is excited about the promise this legislation offers, especially how it will help providers take better care of patients. The bill includes essential elements that will improve care coordination for individuals on dialysis by requiring hospitals to provide information to their dialysis providers. And for those not yet suffering from kidney failure, the bill would allow health care providers to offer incredibly important prevention and kidney disease education.

For a health epidemic with as many victims as kidney disease, the importance of education and increasing our knowledge base simply can’t be overstated. With that in mind, our kidney care advocates in Congress wisely included elements within the bill that would require the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct a study on the current utilization of palliative care services in treating individuals with kidney disease. And it will also increase the number of providers who study and train to specialize in kidney care – especially in underserved areas – by adding nephrology health professionals to National Health Service Corps Scholarship and Loan Programs.

Even as we attack kidney disease from all sides, it’s unlikely that we can expect to eliminate these diseases any time soon. So, in the meantime, we rely on forward-thinking lawmakers to strengthen our existing dialysis infrastructure for the more than 700,000 Americans who need it.

Sens. Cardin and Blunt, through the Chronic Kidney Disease Improvement in Research and Treatment Act, are ensuring that a quality, economically stable dialysis infrastructure will be available for those who rely on it – and that manufacturers will be incentivized for transformative contributions, like new drugs, biologicals, devices, and innovative technologies, that will arm providers with the tools needed to ensure patients get the best possible care. And patients can expect to benefit from guaranteed access to Medigap policies, regardless of age, and a network of state-of-the-art dialysis facilities with transparent quality programs.

The future of kidney care looks bright – and legislative efforts like these only give us more hope for what’s on the horizon. I applaud Cardin and Blunt for taking an important first step, and I look forward to companion legislation being introduced in the House in short order. Together, we can hope to improve the lives – and the care – of the millions of Americans with chronic kidney disease.

Dr. Allen R. Nissenson, MD, FACP, FASN, FNKY, is chair of Kidney Care Partners and Chief Medical Officer (CMO), DaVita Kidney Care. Kidney Care Partners (KCP) is a coalition of more than 30 organizations, comprised of patient advocates, dialysis professionals, care providers, researchers, and manufacturers, dedicated to working together to improve quality of care for individuals with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD).