Alonzo Mourning: Don’t cut funding for dialysis

Winning the World Championship this year was a proud moment for not only the Miami Heat, but the entire city of Miami. It reminded us that anything is possible with dedication, determination and a team spirit that focuses on working together to achieve success. As a member of the Heat family, a fan, and someone who calls Miami home, I still get excited when I think about the journey to the championship and how it feels to accomplish something so monumental for our city.

Because I know that anything is possible when people join forces, I hope Miamians will join me in pursuing another important victory — one that is not basketball related, but rather, a matter of life and death for many of our friends and neighbors.

Although I was fortunate to receive a kidney transplant in 2003 when my health began to decline, most Americans with kidney disease are not as lucky. In fact, approximately 25,000 Floridians rely on frequent dialysis treatments to keep themselves alive and healthy. Dialysis cleanses the blood of toxins when the kidneys can’t and along with medications, good nutrition and routine care, ensures that people suffering from kidney failure can continue to live, work and remain active members of the community.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that this amazing care is being threatened. Under a new proposal out of Washington, D.C., Medicare reimbursement for dialysis care will be cut 12 percent, or approximately $30 for each $246 treatment session of three-hour therapy involving doctors, nurses, expensive equipment, medications and lab work — just to name a few. Cuts of this magnitude reduce Medicare funding to levels inadequate to cover the cost of providing quality dialysis care. Further, these cuts would come at a time where dialysis care is experiencing measurable improvement in key areas — a trend we do not want to see reversed.

Over the past several years, I’ve spent a great deal of time working closely with members of the kidney-care community, seeing and learning firsthand what goes into providing outstanding care. I’ve talked to patients who rely on key staff, like social worker and nutritionists, as well as other dialysis offerings, such as nocturnal dialysis that allows patients to receive needed treatment and still get to their jobs every day. I’ve seen the trust and relationships these patients form with their care teams. I’ve seen the commitment of nephrologists, nurses and technicians to providing top-quality care. I’ve seen what it takes to provide people with high-quality, life-sustaining dialysis.

If Medicare funding cuts go through as proposed, I’m afraid — as are patients, caregivers and providers — that patients’ health and wellbeing of patients will be negatively affected. Staff and care options will be scaled back — or even eliminated in some cases. Undoubtedly, many centers will likely shut their doors altogether — forcing patients to find alternative and less-convenient care settings.

Funding reductions for kidney dialysis should not be taken lightly.

Budget cuts are occurring everywhere you look these days, and I’m a believer in prudent budgeting. But individuals with kidney failure should not be put at risk simply to try to save money.

As officials in Washington, D.C., continue to discuss cutting Medicare funding for dialysis, I hope they will carefully evaluate the effects their decisions will have on the lives of Miamians — and all Americans — struggling with kidney disease and kidney failure.

I hope the Miami community will join together — as we’ve done in the past — to support a common goal: to ensure our friends, family and neighbors with kidney disease and kidney failure have access to the Medicare-funded care they need. By encouraging policymakers to make smart decisions regarding kidney care, we can help patients be victorious in their battle against kidney failure.

Alonzo Mourning is co-chair of the Mourning Family Foundation.

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