Congressional Corner – March – Two Transplant Bills Introduced in Congress

By Carrie L., Director of Congressional and State Relations

Carrie's Blog

Recently, two bills relating to kidney and organ transplants have been introduced in Congress. Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois and Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi introduced the Comprehensive Immunosuppressive Drug Coverage for Kidney Transplant Patients Act of 2013 (S. 323) in the Senate and Congressman Michael Burgess and Congressman Ron Kind introduced a companion bill (H.R. 1325) in the House. If passed, these bills will extend Medicare immunosuppressive drug coverage for kidney transplant patients under 65 years old for the life of the graft. Under current law, Medicare beneficiaries who are under 65, and therefore only eligible for Medicare due to their ESRD diagnosis, lose Medicare coverage 3 years after their transplant. Without the immunosuppressive drugs, the body will reject the transplant and a patient must go back on dialysis. Currently, these drugs cost about $24,000 a year while dialysis costs almost $86,000. This means it costs Medicare an additional $62,000 per year per patient that loses drug coverage. . DPC fully supports this bill and will be working diligently with its cosponsors and with our partners in the kidney community to get it passed.

Additionally in February, the HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act was introduced in both the House of Representatives and Senate. The HOPE Act allows for the study of the safety and effectiveness of organ transplants from HIV-positive deceased donors to HIV-positive recipients. The act doesn’t make this type of donation possible, but allows researchers to determine if this is safe and effective. If studies find these transplants safe and effective, this procedure has the potential to lower waiting time on organ transplant lists for all patients, as experts estimate that an additional 500 organs each year could be available for transplantation. Congresswoman Lois Capps (CA-24) is the lead sponsor in the House and Senators Barbara Boxer (CA) and Tom Coburn (OK) are leading the charge in the Senate.

For some great news, the HOPE Act was passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee and positively recommended to the full Senate in March, the first step towards passage! DPC thanks all of these Members of Congress for their support of kidney patients across the country.

These bills have the potential to increase access to transplants for all kidney patients on the waiting lists. DPC and the kidney community will be working hard to garner as much support for these bills as possible and to get them passed into law!

Comments

  1. “Currently, these drugs cost about $24,000 a year while dialysis costs almost $86,000. This means it costs Medicare an additional $62,000 per year per patient that loses drug coverage. . DPC fully supports this bill and will be working diligently with its cosponsors and with our partners in the kidney community to get it passed.”

    I do not think it is in my interest for you to overstate the cost of dialysis. Please stop using misleading data.

    That $86,000 figure includes Part A, Part B and Part D average Medicare spending for a Medicare beneficiary who is using dialysis. The average cost of the dialysis portion is about $26,000 per year per beneficiary (cite http://www.medpac.gov/chapters/Mar13_Ch06.pdf ; figure 6-4) the average cost to Medicare to reimburse for a year of dialysis, if someone attends 156 routinely scheduled session would be about $31,200. This legislation saves money by shifting the cost to the person with the transplant.

    This is the big problem with this legislation: someone is living with a transplant they will need more than a handful of medications for the graft to thrive. Foremost they will need a doctor to prescribe the medications; this legislation does not provide any physician reimbursement. The $86,000 figure includes physician reimbursement. People living with a transplant will require diagnostic testing, this legislation does not provide for diagnostic testing reimbursement; that $86,000 figure includes reimbursement for diagnostic testing. People living with a transplant will, on average, require numerous medications in addition to immunosuppressants; the cost of these blood pressure meds, thyroid meds, etc are included in that $86,000 number.

    But the news isn’t all bad because after January 1, 2014 people living with a kidney transplant will have access to health insurance through federal or state insurance created by the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Clearly people living with a kidney transplant, but without Employer Group Health Plan coverage, will have to purchase insurance, subsidized or otherwise. This insurance will cover all of the healthcare someone living with a transplant needs – the doctor visits, hospital visits, diagnostic testing and the full spectrum of medications – unless this legislation is signed into law.
    If this legislation is signed into law it will likely mean that insurance through the exchanges will require people living with a kidney transplant to purchase the Medicare supplemental immunosuppressant coverage in order to have coverage for immunosuppressant drugs. People with a kidney transplant will be purchasing insurance through the exchanges, most likely they would choose the highest value insurance available, one with a 10% copay, but unlike every other category of transplant recipients e.g. heart, liver, lungs, if this legislation passes kidney transplant recipients will need to spend an additional $400 a year on 80% coverage for their critically needed meds.

    I suggest people with kidney disease advocate to kill this legislation. People with a kidney transplant should not have to pay more for their health insurance coverage.

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  1. […] experience of attending meetings with members of Congress and discussing issues such as continuing immunosuppressive funding and to create additional awareness on the […]

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