Third Annual NKF Home Dialysis Therapy “Fly-In” to Capitol Hill a Great Success

By Joshua Goldberg

On September 13-14, 2011, patient advocates from across the U.S. participated in the National Kidney Foundation’s annual fly-in to Capitol Hill.  Advocates from six states: Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, Wisconsin, as well as staff members from NKF’s National Office, National Capital Area Division, Ohio Division and Carolina Division, visited 27 congressional offices to discuss newly introduced legislation supporting immunosuppressant drug coverage (S. 1454 and H.R. 2969) and today’s challenges facing chronic kidney disease patients.

Advocates shared compelling personal stories with congressional health staff about their struggles managing the effects of chronic kidney disease as well as to afford the costs associated with transplantation.  All of the patient advocates either are or were on home dialysis therapy and discussed how this treatment option was a better fit for their lifestyles, including allowing them to continue working full-time and travel.  The patient advocates were also among over 100 attendees at a Congressional Kidney Caucus briefing, “Dialysis 101,” at which one of our Florida advocates, Doug Curtis, spoke passionately about the challenges he faced overcoming chronic kidney disease.  Doug, who received a kidney transplant earlier this year, also talked of how Peritoneal Dialysis enabled him to continue full time in his job that requires frequent travel.

Legislation to Expand Medicare Coverage of Immunosuppressive Drugs Supported by New Sponsor, Cosponsors, in 112th Session of Congress
On September 20, 2011, the Comprehensive Immunosuppressive Drug Coverage for Kidney Transplant Act of 2011 (HR 2969) was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Michael Burgess, MD (R-TX) and Ron Kind (D-WI).  Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) introduced the Senate counterpart (S.1454) on July 29, 2011. 

Under current Medicare policy, kidney transplant recipients who are not aged or disabled retain Medicare eligibility for only 36 months following their transplants.  After their coverage ends, transplant recipients often face the challenge of obtaining group health insurance or other coverage, greatly increasing the risk of organ rejection if they cannot afford their required medications.  This new legislation would continue Medicare coverage only for immunosuppressive medications, while coverage for any other health needs would end 36 months after the transplant.  It also requires group health plans to continue to pay for immunosuppressive drugs if they presently include such a benefit in their coverage. 

This bill will improve long-term kidney transplant outcomes by enabling more patients who lack adequate coverage to consider transplantation and by reducing the number of patients who require another transplant, thus making it possible for more individuals on the transplant waiting list to receive the gift of life.