Kidney disease can turn people's lives upside down, especially for those who unexpectedly crash into kidney failure. But Congress has an opportunity to save countless lives by taking action to improve health equity with the Health Equity and Accountability Act (HEAA).
Beyond the immediacy of arranging life-sustaining dialysis care — usually with two-to-four-hour treatments three times a week — there are a host of other challenges facing those who develop kidney failure, including the impact on work and family life, the overwhelming costs associated with kidney care needs and a daunting transplant waiting list.
There are an estimated 37 million people with kidney disease in the United States, and people of color are much more likely to go into kidney failure, which requires dialysis or a transplant to survive, compared to their white counterparts. We have an opportunity to address health disparities now, before countless other Americans have their lives cut short by late diagnoses and missed opportunities to effectively treat and manage chronic conditions like kidney disease.
Black Americans make up just 13% of the U.S. population, but they account for 35% of Americans with kidney failure. Hispanic/Latino people are 1.5 times more likely to develop kidney failure compared to non-Hispanic white people.
Multiple social and community factors exist that have contributed to this inequity, including systemic racial bias, access to timely preventative care, language barriers and cultural differences. Higher risk among communities of color can also be partially attributed to greater rates of diabetes and high blood pressure in these communities, which are the two greatest risk factors for kidney disease. As a Black woman who grew up in an underserved community in the South, this has motivated me even more to make a tangible and lasting impact in the lives of people who could be affected by these troubling trends.
Such health disparities have been brought into sharp focus by the COVID-19 pandemic, which, like kidney disease, has had a disproportionate impact on people of color. People living with underlying conditions, like diabetes and high blood pressure, are at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, as are all people with any stage of kidney disease and those living with a kidney transplant. Black, Hispanic and Native American people have the highest rates of COVID-19 infection among racial and ethnic groups.
At the American Kidney Fund (AKF), we have been working to combat the disproportionate impact that kidney disease and kidney failure has on historically underserved communities, especially communities of color. During my 17-year leadership at AKF, we have supported people wherever they are in their fight against kidney disease — from prevention through post-transplant living – with various awareness education programs, but with support from Congress, we can do so much more to address these kidney disease disparities and continue to advocate for those who have kidney disease or are at risk.
This is why we are proud to support the HEAA, which has been introduced in every Congress since 2003. If Congress passes this critical bill, it will help to ensure that at-risk populations have access to the health care they need and provide funds to better understand why the disease affects certain communities more than others as well as what we can do to eliminate these disparities.
If enacted, HEAA would create a national action plan on kidney disease, including a comprehensive federal plan for more research and data collection on kidney disease in communities of color. This plan includes steps to encourage participation of under-represented populations in clinical trials, so communities most affected by kidney disease are represented.
Enacting the HEAA is a vital step in addressing the kidney disease disparities that exist in our health care system for communities of color. It is more important than ever to let your elected officials know that kidney disease is an important issue to you. You can also add your voice to thousands of others in our Advocacy Network and help us make a difference in the fight against kidney disease.
It is time for Congress to take the necessary steps to battle this disease by ensuring that all Americans have equitable access to the health care they deserve.