The American Kidney Fund (AKF) celebrated the start of Kidney Month by co-hosting a Congressional Briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on March 1. AKF partnered with Dialysis Patient Citizens (DPC) to introduce and educate new health care staff on kidney disease.
The 118th Congress, which was sworn in on January 3, 2023, included over 80 new members of Congress. Only two of the newly elected officials are physicians. To ensure that they are fully briefed, AKF and DPC presented an hour-long information session about kidney disease.
The program opened with remarks by Congressional Kidney Caucus Co-Chair Larry Bucshon. Rep. Bucshon worked as a thoracic surgeon prior to running for public office. As the representative of the 8th District of Indiana, he has experience and knowledge of the impact of chronic kidney disease (CKD) and end-stage renal disease (ESRD). Congressman Bucshon discussed the prevalence of CKD and the need to screen people and get them into treatment early, so they can delay or avoid dialysis. The kidney community is glad to have Congressman Bucshon as their champion.
The next speaker was kidney patient and advocate John Bayton from Washington, D.C. Mr. Bayton explained his journey with chronic kidney disease. He was diagnosed 20 years ago, and he has tried both modalities of dialysis — hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis, both in-center dialysis and home dialysis. He conveyed to Congressional staff the experiences of being a young person on dialysis and spoke of his two kidney transplants, and the journey of being on a transplant waiting list.
A second patient, Merida Bourjolly from Westchester County, New York, shared her powerful story about her kidney disease journey, from her diagnosis of kidney disease to the challenges of being on dialysis while being a small business owner and finally getting a kidney transplant.
Mike Spigler, AKF's vice president of patient support and education, gave a primer on the function of the kidneys. He described the five stages of CKD, tests for kidney disease and the risks. He also gave details on kidney failure and talked about the two options for people who have ESRD, which are dialysis and transplants. View slides.
Holly Bode, AKF's vice president of government affairs, spoke about the history of Medicare coverage of dialysis. In 1972, Congress passed legislation that made dialysis patients eligible for Medicare regardless of age. She spoke about the creation of the Medicare Secondary Payer law, which stated that dialysis patients should stay on their employer sponsored insurance for 30 months before moving to Medicare as their primary insurance. She also said that in 18 states, ESRD patients who have Medicare as their health insurance do not have guaranteed issued Medigap plans. (Medigap plans are Medicare supplemental plans and pay for costs not covered by Medicare.) Ms. Bode also advocated for the introduction of legislation from the 117th Congress that would help kidney patients. The bills include the Living Donor Protection Act, Medigap Expansion legislation, the Restore Protections for Dialysis Patients Act and the CARE for All Kidneys Act. View slides.
As the 118th Congress considers the health care issues facing the United States, AKF and DPC were proud to educate congressional staff on the basics of kidney disease, the history of kidney disease policy and the steps Congress can take to enhance the treatment and options of kidney patients.