A recent document released by the Senate Chronic Care Working Group contains several policy proposals relating to the care of end-stage renal disease (ESRD) patients. The working group was formed last year under by Senate Finance Committee as a way to explore potential bipartisan policy changes to improve health care. DPC was pleased to see that committee discuss many of our our policy priorities including: dialysis patient access to Medicare Advantage Plans, Telehealth for dialysis patients and the desire to make the successful Special Needs Plans permanent to better coordinate care for dialysis patients.
Currently, patients who are eligible for Medicare due to kidney failure are not allowed to enroll in Medicare Advantage plans. The working group is considering allowing beneficiaries to enroll in MA plans without restriction. This is a very big milestone in moving this issue onto the congressional agenda. Thanks in part to the many letters you sent to your legislators about the importance of Medicare Advantage, DPC will continue to work with legislators on advancing this policy proposal.
The next issue concerns another effort to coordinate care called special needs plans (SNPs); or plans that focus on patients with special needs, including renal care. As SNPs have been extended through a series of temporary acts, the working group is considering a long-term expansion or permanent authorization of SNPs.
Improving access to telehealth is another issue included in the paper. Medicare guidelines state that beneficiaries undergoing home hemodialysis must have a monthly assessment with their clinician. Telehealth appointments are available to beneficiaries, but only at facilities that are considered the “originating” telehealth site or part of a larger network. The working group is looking to expand the originating telehealth site status to all free-standing dialysis facilities. This would give more ESRD patients the chance to utilize the telehealth option regardless of geographical location. The working group is seeking feedback on safeguards as well.
DPC is very pleased to see these important policy proposals related to ESRD on the Senate agenda and looks forward to working with legislators on these issues throughout the upcoming year.