Sunday, April 28, 2013


U.S. kidney transplant patients are caught in a political/fiscal Catch-22 that leads to cessation of Medicare coverage for their anti-rejection medications at approximately $10,000 to 20,000 per year, 36 months after transplantation. A proven outcome for some patients has been failure of the transplant with a return to expensive dialysis - again paid for by Medicare, this time at an approximate cost of $70,000 per year. Ridiculous, right?
Ironically, this dilemma fits well into the mutual history of kidney disease and Medicare. We now take Medicare coverage of dialysis for granted. But it was an individual citizen's definitive and courageous act that helped establish that new entitlement forty years ago. Shep Glazer, a 43 year old husband, father and salesman, supported by the precursor organization to today's American Association of Kidney Patients,  and other stakeholders, opted to be openly dialyzed on the floor of the Ways and Means Committee, stunning everyone on November 4, 1972.  His "excellent testimony" made the point. Chronic kidney failure was adopted into the Medicare program in October 1972.

It appears that Congress may now finally be committed to fixing this medication coverage problem.  Another step has just been taken on the legislative pathway, but a few major ones are still required (make it out of House and Senate Committees, approval by House, approval by Senate, negotiation + agreement by House + Senate members, Presidential signature). Kudos to Representative Michael Burgess from Texas who introduced the Comprehensive Immunosuppressive Drug Coverage for Kidney Transplant Patients Act of 2013  
into the House of Representatives on April 9, 2013. The House Bill was referred directly to the House Ways and Means Committee on the same day and matches the Senate Bill previously introduced on February 13, 2013 by Senators Durbin and Cochran. Both would remove the medication coverage cliff awaiting patients at 36 months following kidney transplantation.

Noted clearly on the government website is the low percentage of bills that make it out of Committees for consideration by the entire House or Senate; only 13% of House bills and 1% of Senate bills succeed to the next procedural step. If our dual immunosuppressive bills don't make it out of their respective committees, they will be "dead" and the Catch-22 will continue. This is where your help is needed - really. We must help push these bills out of committee for consideration by the entire legislative bodies.

Politicians respond to their constituents, especially when significant numbers of citizens make the effort to respectfully express an opinion through the system. To date, it appears that only 35/435 Representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of the Burgess bill, and 5/100 Senators have signed on as co-sponsors of the Durbin bill. Many of our legislators need to hear directly from us about these bills.

Spend some time now confirming the identity and contact information for your own Senators and Representative.   If your politician has already "signed on" to the appropriate bill (the Senate bill for a Senator, the House bill for a Representative), call or e-mail to say; "Thank- you for signing on to the Comprehensive Immunosuppressive Drug Coverage for Kidney Transplant Patients Act of 2013".  If the individual has NOT YET signed on, indicate that you believe that signing on is important - and why.

Special effort should come from constituents who live in the districts and states of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committee members. They include:

You will be joining an important and proud tradition of citizen voices shaping Congressional action. Shep Glazer's personal action was considered "excellent testimony" and made a real difference. Your personal phone calls and e-mails will be too.

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