Last month, Rep. Donald Payne (NJ) and 27 other members of the House of Representatives wrote to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy requesting that emergency financial assistance for dialysis patients be included in the next COVID-19 legislative aid package. Rep. Payne, a dialysis patient himself, explained that dialysis patients require additional financial help because they are in a vulnerable position both physically and economically.
Dialysis patients are facing a huge burden during this pandemic, which Rep. Payne outlines in his letter. Most dialysis patients receive their life-sustaining treatments in a center three times per week for four hours each treatment. Unlike other people who are high risk for COVID-19, dialysis patients "do not have the luxury of being able to socially distance until the pandemic is over," Payne explains.
With cuts to public transportation, patients are finding it harder to get to their treatments, and many are opting to arrange for private transportation services to minimize their risk of potential exposure. Private transportation is an unexpected expense that adds up significantly when relying on the service multiple times per week to get to and from dialysis, particularly for patients in rural areas who may have to travel long distances to get to their dialysis centers. Payne is calling on Congress to "look at relief options regarding transportation to help those who may not be able to access or afford alternative options." He is also urging Congress to provide an adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) to dialysis centers, so both patients and staff can be protected and a "potential scenario for widespread infection in the dialysis community" can be avoided.
Rep. Payne recognized the work of American Kidney Fund (AKF) in his letter, writing, "...the American Kidney Fund has set up an emergency fund for patient financial assistance that has been rapidly exhausted due to overwhelming demand." He added that additional financial assistance is needed so AKF can continue supporting dialysis patients as the crisis continues.
AKF started the AKF Coronavirus Emergency Fund in March, soon after the COVID-19 pandemic became widespread in the United States and some states began issuing stay-at-home orders. To date, we have helped more than 4,500 patients thanks to support from individuals, corporations and foundations, and the need continues to grow — in total, we have received nearly 9,000 applications for grants from patients.
More than 80% of dialysis patients are too sick to work, so many live on fixed incomes and often rely on spouses, parents or children to help with expenses. Since the middle of March, more than 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment. The loss of income has hit dialysis patients and their families very hard. In addition to added transportation expenses, patients who received their food from food banks before the COVID-19 crisis now have to purchase groceries elsewhere — sometimes with added delivery fees — because it is not safe for them to stand in line at their food banks. Communities of color, who have high rates of kidney disease and its leading causes — diabetes and high blood pressure — have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19 and need help.
Congress has already demonstrated the uniquely vulnerable situation of dialysis patients by making them the only patient group that is eligible for Medicare, regardless of age, after three months. Rep. Payne's letter describes how these patients are especially vulnerable during a health crisis and need extra support. AKF is honored to be identified in his letter as a charity that provides direct assistance to dialysis patients.