While most people think of Medicare as medical insurance for the elderly, it actually functions as a national health insurance program–single payer– for everyone—man,woman and child—diagnosed with end stage renal disease. Currently there are some 80,000 people awaiting kidney transplants and 400,000 people on dialysis. Transplant and dialysis are the only two ways to treat this condition. The cost to Medicare is well over $20 billion a year. Much of the money goes to pay doctors working for corporations doing dyalysis,while a considerably smaller amount is spent to transplant kidneys. Joan Lando,a California activist who is fighting greater accessibility for kidney transplant patients, wrote me the following:
You will get a shock if you call the AARP to ask about supplemental insurance if you are being denied a kidney transplant because you only have Medicare and no other insurance to cover the 20% co-pay for a transplant. Most kidney transplant centers offer transplant for people up to 70 years old, but will not even make an appointment to see you if you can’t prove that you have supplementary insurance to pay for the 20% of the transplant that Medicare refuses to pay. For no reason that makes financial sense, except perhaps to the people profiting from dialysis, Medicare pays 100% of kidney dialysis for any American in kidney failure but only 80% of a kidney transplant! Since dialysis costs Medicare $72,000 per year per patient, and maintaining a person after a kidney transplant, only costs Medicare $15,000 a year, and we currently have over half a million people in the US attached to dialysis machines, the savings to Medicare would be in the billions of dollars if these patients could get a transplant. Since virtually all people in kidney failure are totally disabled and eligible for Social Security, the actual savings to the taxpayer if these people could regain their health and careers is billions more. Also, this is Medicare money that could be used for other diseases.
The AARP could save tens of thousands of lives and save Medicare billions of dollars if they would sell supplementary insurance to people who are in kidney failure and over 55.
If you are one of the over 200,000 people over 55, (AARP’s age range), in kidney failure and need a kidney transplant to get off the dialysis machine which can only partially take the place of a functioning kidney, try calling AARP as my aunt did. Here’s how she describes the phone call, “I called AARP about supplemental medical insurance. The first thing I was told, ‘Before we discuss the plan I would like to inform you that you must be able to answer ‘No’ on the application to the End Stage Renal Disease question in order to be eligible. Are you on kidney dialysis or have kidney disease?’ My aunt does not have kidney disease,but if she had end stage renal disease it would be game over.