Across the country, over 660,000 Americans are battling end-stage renal disease (ESRD), more commonly known as kidney failure. It is very prevalent in many parts of Kentucky, and chances are you know someone effected by the disease.
Kidneys are vital to keeping the blood and body free from toxins; without functioning kidneys, patients have to turn to dialysis treatments just to stay alive. Most dialysis patients must make at least three trips per week to their local clinic for a two-to-three-hour treatment that removes and cleans the patient’s blood, and then returns it to their body. Dialysis is a life-saving treatment for many patients and has helped to exponentially expand the life expectancy for those battling ESRD, however it often comes with cost.
Working as the Executive Director of the Kidney Health Alliance of Kentucky (KHAKY) for the past 14 years, I have seen firsthand that the difficulties associated with ESRD and dialysis aren’t isolated to just the physical aspects of treatment.
KHAKY prioritizes helping patients who face the many challenges associated with kidney disease. If there is one thing I have learned from this role, it is that living with ESRD impacts every part of a patient’s life. Whether it be mobility and energy, or a career and finances, no aspect of living is left untouched.
It’s no surprise to most Kentuckians that healthcare is expensive. Dialysis is no exception, costing upwards of $72,000 per year for patients without insurance. The costs of treatment coupled with transportation costs and missed time from work (for those still able to hold a job) result in monstrous bills with decreased resources to make ends meet.
KHAKY works closely with organizations like the American Kidney Fund to help alleviate some of the financial burdens associated with dialysis treatments. The American Kidney Fund offers a financial assistance program, which helps tens of thousands of dialysis patients each year pay their insurance premiums. Any patient who has ever received charitable assistance will tell you what a blessing it has been to ease the financial stress of dialysis.
When a patient is dealing with kidney failure, the last thing they should have to worry about is how they will be able to afford the costs of their treatment or their insurance. The American Kidney Fund understands the importance of keeping patients on the insurance plans they prefer, despite their ability to pay the rising costs of private insurance premiums.
The sad reality is that many large insurance companies are working to reject charitable donations as a legitimate form of premium payment. This is an effort with the sole purpose of driving up their profits and protecting their bottom lines. Allowing this would force many dialysis patients to choose between staying on their preferred private insurance and facing bankruptcy or moving onto taxpayer-funded insurance.
Having a voice in treatment is a vital part of the healthcare system. Pulling a patient’s healthcare plan from underneath their feet is effectively silencing their voice in their own care. It will limit the providers they can go to and diminish their right to choose the insurance plan that works best for them.
Luckily, there is hope. Legislation has been introduced in Congress to protect ESRD patient’s right to use charitable donations towards the payment of their premiums. The Access to Marketplace Insurance Act is a commonsense piece of legislation that protects a patient’s most basic right.
To ensure this basic protection for kidney patients passes, I hope you will join me in urging Senator McConnell and the rest of Kentucky’s elected federal officials to protect the well-being of kidney patients by supporting the Access to Marketplace Insurance Act.
Pat Ham is the Executive Director of the Kidney Health Alliance of Kentucky.