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Mourning: On World Kidney Day, Let’s Keep Our Eye on the Goal for Kidney Patients

As a chronic kidney disease patient who was fortunate enough to receive a transplant, I am honored to be in Washington on World Kidney Day on behalf of the millions of men and women in the United States living with kidney disease.

Specifically, I’m here to meet with policymakers on Capitol Hill and in the White House about the important needs of Americans with kidney failure — especially as we look ahead to implementation of the health care reform law.

Although many people with kidney disease are able to continue living a full life as I have done, individuals with kidney failure are unique in several ways. Every day, these individuals must face the fragility of life.

To survive, these brave people require kidney dialysis or a transplant to live. And because the waiting list for a kidney transplant (for those who are medically eligible) can take many years, if a match ever becomes available, dialysis is the treatment course for patients. This means a minimum of three- to four-hour treatments three times per week. This life-sustaining treatment is precious and, thankfully, funded for most American dialysis patients by Medicare.

Americans with kidney failure also are unique because Medicare provides coverage regardless of age. This is a blessing for patients and their families. Without Medicare, many patients would not have the resources to receive the care and treatments they need to survive — let alone live full and productive lives.

After diagnosis of kidney failure, individuals are able to keep their private health insurance for up to 30 months — until Medicare coverage takes over. This policy gives patients the opportunity to remain on the same plans as their families as they learn more about their condition and adjust to the realities of their disease. Their private plans also might have lower co-pays and more robust benefits than Medicare.

Being diagnosed with kidney failure can be overwhelming from both an emotional and practical standpoint. Patients must come to terms with their condition, establish new approaches to diet, arrange for dialysis treatment, establish new work routines and so much more. Having the ability to retain private health insurance coverage as they deal with other dramatic life changes is invaluable.

The 2010 health care overhaul expands the availability of health insurance coverage through the creation in 2014 of “health benefit exchanges.” These exchanges are important to all Americans, especially those with kidney failure, because exchanges offer an important opportunity to obtain private health insurance coverage.

Unfortunately, the law is not clear on one important point: It does not specify that people with kidney failure may choose to retain their private insurance coverage for 30 months before joining Medicare if they have coverage through the health exchanges.

I am in Washington to urge our friends in the administration and Congress to address the law’s oversight by making clear that Americans with kidney failure will not be forced off private insurance during this important 30-month period.

A fundamental promise of the health reform law is, as President Barack Obama so often put it, “If you like the coverage you have, you can keep it.” Individuals who enroll in health exchanges and are diagnosed with kidney failure should be granted the same right to maintain their private insurance as individuals with group health coverage purchased outside the exchanges. The health reform law sought equal treatment for Americans seeking health care coverage. The law did not intend for Americans with kidney failure and who have coverage under the exchanges to be treated any differently.

I truly believe in the extraordinary potential of the new health reform law and its ability to help patients with special needs such as those with kidney disease, and I commend the president and Congress for their leadership and foresight for making access to health care for everyone a reality. Now, on World Kidney Day, I urge our policymakers to get all of the details right in the health care reform law, especially the details ensuring equality for Americans with kidney failure.

Former Georgetown University and National Basketball Association star Alonzo Mourning suffered kidney failure in 2001, received a transplant, then returned to help the Miami Heat win the NBA title.

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