Highlights of NKF’s GOING ORANGE Campaign for National Kidney Month

We all know that 1 in 3 American adults is at risk for kidney disease and 1 in 9 have kidney disease and most don’t know it. As advocates affected by kidney disease, many of you raise awareness every single day about kidney disease, risk factors and the importance of getting tested. Yet, kidney disease doesn’t often get top billing as do other health conditions. Throughout the month of March, the National Kidney Foundation raised awareness through a multitude of ways. One particularly visual activity was turning buildings, landmarks, and even a health insurance company orange (NKF brand color) to raise greater awareness about kidney disease.

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Future Dialysis Cuts Reduced and Oral-only Drugs Remain under Part D until 2024

On Monday March 31, 2014, the Senate passed legislation that avoids substantial Medicare cuts to physician payments. This vote comes on the heels of House approval that occurred last week.   The one year patch to Medicare physician payments includes a provision tomitigate the effect of future cuts to dialysis payment for years 2016, 2017 and 2018.

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Time is Running Out to #GetCoveredNow

The last week of National Kidney Month also marks the final week to buy health insurance in the Health Insurance Marketplace.  This is the first step towards gaining access to the care you and your family need if you have kidney disease and no other health insurance.  March 31st is the last day you can enroll in the Health Insurance Marketplace to get covered this year and receive financial assistance to help defray the costs, if you meet the income requirements.

If you have kidney disease or other health complications and don’t have insurance through your employer or Medicare, you can no longer be denied coverage if you have a pre-existing condition.  So don’t let your health status stop you from checking out options in your state.  This extends to transplant patients who are under age 65 and may lose their Medicare coverage three years after their transplant.  The Health Insurance Marketplace can help transplant recipients whose Medicare coverage will expire continue to get the healthcare and medication coverage they need.  Everyone can go to www.healthcare.gov to find the health insurance marketplace for their state.  It doesn’t hurt to check out what options are available to you and what the costs will be.

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Big Win for Transplant Recipients — CMS Drops Proposal That Would Have Restricted Access to Essential Drugs

The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced today a decision to drop its proposal to remove drugs from protected class status under Medicare Part D.  This means transplant recipients will continue to have access to all immunosuppressive drugs under their Medicare Part D plan.  In a letter to Representative Henry Waxman, Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner stated that the agency will not move forward this year with its January proposal to remove immunosuppressive medications, antidepressants and antipsychotics from protected class status.  The letter states that the agency may revisit the issue in future years.

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NKF Supports Full Disclosure on Food Labels

ImageIf you heard press reports last week about a possible makeover for nutrition labels on packaged foods and drinks, it’s hopeful news for the kidney community. For the first time since food labels were launched 20 years ago, the FDA is proposing some major changes. The new labels would highlight total calories, added sugars and exact amounts of certain nutrients, such as potassium and calcium. The National Kidney Foundation commends the FDA for this proposal and has advocated strongly for adding potassium content to all labels and expanding the requirement for full disclosure on calcium content. This is because it is essential that two of our very large constituent groups have this information. For those with hypertension, which affects 73 million Americans and can lead to kidney disease, increasing  potassium and calcium intake might lower blood pressure. Eating more potassium-rich foods can prevent or delay the onset of high blood pressure.

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Get Active During March, National Kidney Month

What are YOU doing this March?

March is National Kidney Month, and if you haven’t made plans already, now is the time to do so.

Kidney patients will make their voices heard in Washington, DC on March 3-4 at the inaugural Kidney Patient Summit hosted by the National Kidney Foundation (NKF).  Nearly 80 patient and family members representing the NKF, Alport Syndrome Foundation, American Association of Kidney Patients, IGA Nephropathy Foundation of America, The Nephcure Foundation, and Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation will meet with Members of Congress and their staff to share their personal stories and advocate for policies that promote early detection and additional federal research funding for kidney disease.

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Get Your Labs and Know Your Numbers

Thanks to new regulations released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, beginning on April 7, 2014 you will be able to directly access your lab tests straight from the lab company. Though many people are able to obtain their lab results directly from their physicians or through an online service, in some cases, patients have had trouble accessing their test results or never received notification of an abnormal test result.  This new regulation provides a way for patients to directly contact the lab to find out their results.  In order to take advantage of this new policy, you will need to know which lab company your physician sent your tests, so be sure to ask at the time you get your tests done. 

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Washington State Permits Waiting Period for Transplant Coverage

As we mentioned in our post Oregon Reverses its Proposal on 24 Month Waiting Period for Transplant Coverage, NKF remains concerned about the potential for other discriminatory insurance benefit designs in various states that place limitations on access to medications, dialysis treatments and transplant coverage.  We recently learned that some insurance plans sold in Washington State have applied a 90 day waiting period for people who were not previously insured.  The Washington State Insurance Commissioner has condoned this policy, arguing that it is permissible under Federal law.

The National Kidney Foundation opposes this practice and believes any waiting period discriminates against individuals with organ failure and should not be permitted. Delaying coverage of organ transplants puts peoples’ lives at risk, increases the need for other healthcare services, such as dialysis, and shifts health care costs to the public sector.  If you are a Washington State resident concerned about this policy visit our Advocacy Action Center to email the Insurance Commissioner.

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Oregon Reverses its Proposal on 24 Month Waiting Period for Transplant Coverage

In our November 13, 2013 post Help Us Prevent Discriminatory Kidney Care Policies we asked you to take action to keep Oregon State from permitting private insurance companies to adopt waiting periods of up to 24 months on organ and bone marrow transplants.  We are happy to report that advocacy works yet again and that your emails helped defeat this proposal.  Oregon’s Insurance Division has ruled that it will not allow insurers to consider prior insurance coverage as a requirement for obtaining a transplant.

While this issue was resolved, the National Kidney Foundation remains concerned about the potential for other discriminatory insurance benefit designs by private insurance that place limitations on access to medications, dialysis treatments and transplant coverage across the 50 states.  We continue to monitor this issue and will be sure to alert you and weigh in when we learn of this happening.  As many of you are picking new health insurance options we encourage you to compare plans when you have a choice in coverage and to make sure you understand what the insurance plan will cover, what it won’t and how much you can expect to pay out of pocket for the health care services you need.

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Access to Immunosuppressive Drugs under Medicare Part D is at Risk

Medicare beneficiaries who do not qualify for immunosuppressive drug coverage under Medicare Part B (the Medicare program that covers outpatient care) typically receive coverage of their immunosuppressive drugs under the Medicare prescription drug program known as Medicare Part D.  Under current Medicare Part D protections, organ recipients have access to all approved immunosuppressive drugs. This protection allows physicians to tailor drug combinations to best meet the needs of the individual patients. However, a proposal released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on January 6, 2014 would eliminate this protection and allow Medicare Part D health plans to restrict access to immunosuppressive drugs.

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