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Dialysis patients caught in the middle of funding debate

It is a vote that many people in Rome may have missed, but earlier this year Congress voted to reduce funding to dialysis clinics across the country. For dialysis patients, however, the vote marked a huge decrease in funds for the clinics that they need to clean their blood. Dialysis patients live with end-stage kidney disease and many of them have filed disability claims, as they are often unable to work because of frequent trips to dialysis clinics. Patients either have no kidneys or the kidneys are malfunctioning, preventing them from properly cleaning the patients' blood.

The federal government has been covering the costs of end-stage kidney disease for quite a long time and much of those costs come from dialysis. Previously, the government had been paying clinics based on the amount of the anti-anemia drug Epogen that was administered. The policy was changed to a flat-rate payment to clinics after it was reported that many clinics were overusing Epogen to drive up their payments.

It was when that change to a flat-rate was made that Congress started to notice dialysis clinics' profits started to surge. The amount of Epogen that clinics used fell below what the government originally estimated, meaning that the payments it was making to clinics were higher than what clinics actually needed, or at least that is what Congress thought. So, in January, Congress voted to reduce funding.

Now, many of those same members of Congress have changed their minds, arguing to maintain the funding. Members of the dialysis lobby have pushed hard to keep their funding where it is.

Unfortunately for some clinics, lower funding could force the clinics to close, leaving some dialysis patients with limited resources for this necessary treatment.

Source: The New York Times, "In Congress, a Bid to Undo Dialysis Cuts," Eric Lipton, Aug. 28, 2013

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