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We must help improve the outlook for individuals living with chronic kidney disease

Ways and Means members team up for bipartisan health care legislation

Reps. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., and Terri A. Sewell, D-Ala., write that their bipartisan legislation to address chronic kidney disease will save lives and improve health care.
Reps. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., and Terri A. Sewell, D-Ala., write that their bipartisan legislation to address chronic kidney disease will save lives and improve health care. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Nationwide, roughly 37 million Americans — nearly five times the combined population of Alabama and West Virginia — live with chronic kidney disease. This illness, if not properly diagnosed and treated in time, can result in kidney failure. Each year, more than 130,000 Americans receive a diagnosis of kidney failure or end-stage renal disease (ESRD), an irreversible condition that can be fatal. If left untreated, chronic kidney disease will result in dialysis care or a kidney transplant.

There are often no apparent symptoms of chronic kidney disease. Many of those with the condition may be unaware they have it. To address this problem, we need to expand access to prevention, education and treatment efforts that will help patients and providers more effectively recognize and treat this “silent killer.”

That is why we have partnered to introduce the Chronic Kidney Disease Improvement in Research and Treatment Act (HR 5027) in the House of Representatives. If passed, this bipartisan legislation would aid the nationwide fight against chronic kidney disease by improving patient access to the most effective treatments, technology and innovations.

The most important step in this fight is prevention. Our bill would add chronic kidney disease screening to Medicare’s annual wellness benefit in order to catch chronic kidney disease early. With this added protection, those who face a greater risk for kidney disease can receive screening and, in the case of a positive diagnosis, access treatments to help slow disease progression.

This bill would also help expand access to educational resources for patients, increase awareness and improve understanding of kidney disease and its symptoms. The legislation also expands the Medicare Kidney Disease Education benefit to allow dialysis providers and facilities to offer kidney education services and services for Medicare beneficiaries with stage 5 chronic kidney disease who are not yet on dialysis.

Another major hurdle in fighting chronic kidney disease is the ongoing workforce challenges among kidney care providers. Worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, the workforce shortage in our health care system has led to significantly higher labor costs for providers. This has negatively impacted their ability to attract and retain skilled caregivers. Our legislation addresses these concerns by ensuring kidney care providers receive accurate annual payment updates that reflect the true costs of providing care. 

Furthermore, HR 5027 looks to ensure a viable future for the nephrology workforce by including nephrologists and nonphysician practitioners in the National Health Services Corps Loan Repayment Program. These efforts will develop and support a kidney care workforce pipeline as well as directly addressing the current national workforce crisis.

The Chronic Kidney Disease Improvement in Research and Treatment Act would incentivize innovation in kidney care. It will require Medicare to provide a long-term, sustainable payment pathway for new drugs, biologics, medical devices and other technologies that can help diagnose and treat kidney disease. It would also help to ensure Medicare Advantage plans support access to innovative therapies and treatments that are not currently covered. By expanding access to cutting-edge treatment options, these provisions will lower costs and result in better care for our nation’s kidney community.

We believe that improving kidney disease prevention and education efforts as well as expanding access to innovative treatments can help turn the tide on chronic kidney disease. As this disease continues to impact the lives of tens of millions of Americans, we remain hopeful that our colleagues in Congress, on both sides of the aisle, will rally behind and help us pass this critical bill.

Rep. Carol Miller is a Republican representing West Virginia’s 1st District. Rep. Terri A. Sewell is a Democrat representing Alabama’s 7th District. They both serve on the House Ways and Means Committee.

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