Rep. Diane Black Lauded By National, Local Kidney Community for Leading Bipartisan Effort to Stop “Devastating Cuts” to Medicare’s Dialysis Benefit
In an unusual demonstration of bipartisanship, more than 200 members of the House of Representatives, led by Congresswoman Black and three of her colleagues, signed a strongly worded letter to the nation’s top Medicare official, urging caution and expressing concern over proposed cuts to Medicare’s End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) program, which covers 340,000 Americans with kidney failure, and 8,860 in Tennessee.
The issue stems from a July 1 “proposed rule” that, if finalized, would cut funding for dialysis by 12 percent or $30 on each $246 payment that Medicare would have paid per treatment in 2014.
The bipartisan effort, initiated by Representatives Diane Black (R-TN), John Lewis (D-GA), John Shimkus (R-IL), and Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) quickly gained momentum within both parties as Congress drew to a close for August Congressional recess. Many of the more than 200 members who signed the letter had heard from myriad kidney organizations and individuals about the negative consequences the proposed cuts would have on staffing, access, and quality of care. In a letter to their House colleagues, the four co-sponsors of the effort cited “enormous improvements in quality of care” and efficiency improvements over the past decade—trends the kidney community maintains will be jeopardized if the proposed cuts are implemented.
“Congresswoman Black has demonstrated extraordinary leadership by taking a stand against this ill-advised proposed rule that could have negative consequences for Tennessee's 8,860 dialysis patients who rely on Medicare's dialysis benefit for their quality care,” said Ron Kuerbitz, chair of Kidney Care Partners, the nation's largest kidney care coalition. “On behalf of kidney patients, nurses, physicians, providers, and other advocates in Tennessee and nationally, we sincerely thank you.”
The most recent House letter follows similar strongly worded letters from members of the Senate, House, the Congressional Black, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific-American Caucuses, as well as virtually every kidney patient, physician, nurse, and provider organization in the country.
The Medicare ESRD benefit currently covers nearly 85 percent of the more than 400,000 Americans with kidney failure who rely on this program for their life-sustaining dialysis. Each session, which takes 3-4 hours, cleanses the blood of toxins, since the patient’s kidneys no longer function. Dialysis treatments most often occur in a dialysis center three times per week. Because of patients’ heavy reliance on Medicare to cover dialysis for this life-sustaining process, increasing numbers of elected officials have joined the kidney community in its unified opposition to the proposed deep cuts. According to kidney community leaders, if the proposed cuts were implemented, Medicare would fail to cover the cost of each beneficiary’s dialysis session.
Patient and professional organizations in Tennessee and across the country agree that if the proposed rule becomes final, the cuts will have a devastating impact on the nation’s dialysis system, especially in some rural and inner city areas. Kidney care leaders are urging Medicare officials to reverse course before the rule is finalized following the 60-day comment period, which ends Sept. 1.
“On July 1, exactly 40 years to the day that the Medicare ESRD benefit went into effect, the federal government released this proposal to dramatically cut dialysis reimbursement. That commitment, made to our most vulnerable Americans suffering from kidney failure, is now in doubt,” said Kuerbitz. “Since July 1, we have been urging policy makers in Washington to live up to the commitment made 40 years ago. We hope the latest strong statement made by members of Congress will be weighed carefully by Medicare officials. We are especially thankful to Congresswoman Black for her leadership efforts to try and reverse this dangerous proposal.”