Representative Paul Cook has joined a broad bipartisan effort in Congress to express concern about cuts in Medicare payments for dialysis treatments. Those cuts originated in a Congressional vote earlier this year, in a measure supported by about half of those Congress people who now are part of the current protest. Dan Stork looks at the turnabout…
On Monday, November 4, Representative Paul Cook visited the DaVita dialysis center in Yucca Valley, where DaVita officials thanked him for speaking out against proposed cuts of almost 10 percent in Medicare payments for dialysis treatments. Cook was one of more than 200 members of Congress from all along the political spectrum who signed a letter to Medicare last month that expressed concern about the cuts, voicing the fear that they would lead to degradation or even loss of kidney disease care, especially in rural and inner-city areas.
According to the New York Times, up to two years ago, dialysis centers were paid by the dose for an expensive drug commonly used in conjunction with dialysis. To reduce costs, dialysis payments were changed to a flat rate, with the drug cost bundled in. Use of the drug then plummeted, leaving large profit increases for the chains of for-profit dialysis centers, the two largest of which are owned by Denver-based DaVita and Fresenius, a company based in Germany. In January of this year, Congress voted to require the Obama administration to reduce the excessive payments. Medicare accordingly planned an average cut of 9.4 percent in dialysis treatment payments. Then the renal disease treatment industry, which receives almost $33 billion a year specifically targeted for it, and cannot charge Medicare patients to make up their losses, and which contributes heavily to politicians of both major parties, mounted a lobbying effort against the cuts, emphasizing the thin margins on which dialysis centers, particularly those in disadvantaged areas, operate. About 100 legislators changed their positions.
DaVita serves about 500 dialysis patients in four Hi-Desert centers. Background information for this story comes from the following New York Times article http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/29/us/politics/health-lobby-tries-to-undo-dialysis-cuts.html?hp&_r=1&