TWIN FALLS • Proposed cuts to Medicare could affect all dialysis patients, whether they are on Medicare or not.
Medicare compensation to dialysis centers across the nation already falls far short of the cost of treatment, said Gina Safford, RD, regional clinical liaison for DaVita HealthCare Partners Inc. in Idaho. More cuts could jeopardize an already bare-bones program.
Dialysis centers “seem to be popping up all over the country because of the increase in kidney disease,” Safford said. DaVita operates dialysis centers in Twin Falls and Burley.
“These centers aren’t built for a profit — because there isn’t one,” she said. “These centers are built for a medical need.
“We know that Medicare needs to make cuts, but this isn’t the place to start.”
If the cuts are made in 2014, dialysis centers may have to increase the cost to non-Medicare patients in order to stay afloat.
And some small, rural dialysis centers may have to close their doors, forcing patients to travel farther for treatments.
Most patients with End-stage Renal Disease — kidney failure — go to a dialysis center three times a week to have their blood filtered, and those patients might live for years.
“Or they have the choice of end of life,” Safford said.
Safford has noticed a certain stigma associated with kidney disease.
“People don’t like to talk about dialysis,” Safford said. “It’s not a glamorous topic at all.”
Some patients suffer from kidney disease caused by Type II diabetes, which, in some cases, can be prevented or even reversed with lifestyle changes, said Dr. Michelle Myers, of St. Luke’s Nephrology in Twin Falls. But while further kidney damage can be prevented by managing blood sugar levels, the damage can’t be reversed once it has occurred.
Myers called Medicare’s proposed compensation plan a shell game.
“Used to, Medicare was charged separately for the dialysis treatment and separately for medications,” she said. “Now they bundle these charges. They mandate us to provide more things (during treatment), and now they plan to cut the funding by 10 percent.”
Some can have dialysis treatments at home, but that, too, would be affected by the Medicare cuts, Myers said.
The need for rural centers iis growing as people live longer than ever. It would be a shame if the cuts put some dialysis centers out of business, she said. The nearest centers outside of the Magic Valley are in Boise and Pocatello.
Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers is a nonprofit group that transports kidney patients to and from dialysis centers in the Magic Valley.
“We see more and more people with kidney disease as the population ages,” said Brenda Payton, a group volunteer. “Not all dialysis patients can drive themselves. We transport patients all the way from Shoshone, Buhl and Jerome.”
Medicare and Medicaid insure nearly 80 percent of patients with kidney failure on dialysis.
U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and 16 other members of the Senate Finance Committee have urged Medicare not to reduce compensation payments below the cost of providing care. The panel has jurisdiction over Medicare.
“We must now work together to assure that appropriate payment adjustments are made in a manner that does not gut this crucial service for vulnerable beneficiaries,” said the committee’s May 17 letter to Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.