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COLUMN: 2022 Midterm Attention Provides Georgia Lawmakers Opportunity to Set the Standard on Kidney Care

Georgia is set to be one of the centers of American political gravity this year. With elections for the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives, the Governor’s Mansion, and other important statewide offices taking place later this year, eyes from across the nation will be watching to see what happens here in November.

With that increased attention on what our state – and our elected leaders – are doing, now is the perfect opportunity for Georgia lawmakers to set the standard and pave the way forward for U.S. policy. Everyday citizens and elected officials will be watching closely to see what Georgia’s policymakers do, and it is a pivotal chance to advocate for policies designed to help those who need it most. 

One group that needs lawmakers’ help is dialysis patients. People who suffer from kidney disease have often been left out of important discussions about healthcare policy in the U.S., and as a result are in dire need of help. The COVID-19 pandemic took an immense toll on the kidney patient community in our country, and the total number of U.S. kidney patients fell in 2020 for the first time since officials started keeping track. The nature of kidney disease and the risks it poses to those living with it made kidney patients uniquely vulnerable to some of our nation’s most significant healthcare challenges in recent years, making the need for assistance from lawmakers all the more apparent.

That’s why I’m happy to see Georgia’s lawmakers are getting ahead of this issue by supporting legislation that can address some of the biggest obstacles facing kidney patients in the U.S. today. Representative Sanford Bishop (D-GA-2), for example, has shown he recognizes this opportunity by cosponsoring the Jack Reynolds Memorial Medigap Expansion Act. Introduced by Representatives Cindy Axne (D-IA-3) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA-3), this bill is designed to help patients overcome an especially daunting hurdle: access to coverage. 

For many patients, Medicare is the only source of coverage they have to pay for the cost of their dialysis treatments. However, Medicare will only pay for up to 80 percent of that cost, and federal law doesn’t require insurers to provide kidney patients under 65 with access to affordable Medigap plans that can help make up the difference. Unless a patient lives in a state that has the necessary protections in place, they won’t be able to get those plans at all (and even in many cases where they can get those plans, they are still too expensive). Instead, they have to pay those costs out-of-pocket, something that can quickly bury patients and their families financially, since patients often undergo dialysis three or more times each week. 

The Jack Reynolds Memorial Medigap Expansion Act would fix that and ensure that all patients can access affordable Medigap plans to help them pay for their treatments, no matter where they live. Dialysis is essential, life-saving care, and making proper coverage more accessible would be invaluable to countless patients and families throughout the U.S. And, beyond alleviating a sizable financial burden, it would also help patients remain eligible for a kidney transplant that could help get them off of dialysis. 

All eyes will be on Georgia in 2022. We need leaders like Representative Bishop who are willing to stand up for kidney patients and set the example for other lawmakers to do the same. Legislation like the Jack Reynolds Memorial Medigap Expansion Act presents an incredible opportunity to help patients who have too often been left behind, and now is the time to make sure it gets to the president’s desk. 

By: Dr. Roxana Chicas – PhD, RN is an Assistant Professor, Research Track, in the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing and a Bridges to the Baccalaureate scholar at Emory University. Dr. Chicas earned PhD from Emory University Laney Graduate School in 2020 and completed a one-year postdoctoral training in the Renal Division of the School of Medicine at Emory University.

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