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Opinion: The Medigap Expansion Act is smart health care policy

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been many conversations about healthcare and federal health policy. These conversations have taken place both at the center of our nation’s federal policymaking in Washington, D.C. and in statehouses across the country, and have revolved around advancements in modern medicine, public safety, and the impact legislation has on our healthcare systems. As this dialogue continues, we must maintain this momentum and implement intelligent, conscious solutions to our country’s most pressing healthcare issues.

One of these pressing healthcare issues that deserves more attention is the financial burden faced by kidney patients who are on dialysis. Right now, 786,000 people in the United States suffer from End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), and of those patients, 71 percent receive life-saving dialysis treatments. These treatments are often required multiple times per week, making this medical necessity costly.

Medicare partially covers the costs of dialysis but doesn’t cover all of it, and the leftover costs fall on the patient to pay, placing a substantial financial burden on them. This financial burden is overwhelming for patients and their families to cover and forces them to adjust their lives to regularly paying significant medical expenses. Using a large portion of one’s income to cover lifesaving medical costs can be even more strenuous when our current economy faces rising prices due to inflation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The silver lining is that we have a way we can help dialysis patients. Right now, there is a bipartisan bill in Congress called the Jack Reynolds Memorial Medigap Expansion Act. This bill was introduced by Congresswoman Cindy Axne (D-IA-3) and Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA-3) and provides access to an extension to Medicare called Medigap coverage, which is only available to ESRD patients over 65 unless their state has the right protections. This bill enables patients to access Medigap plans to cover the remaining costs of dialysis treatments that Medicare doesn’t cover itself, allowing dialysis patients to obtain their treatments without a financial headache no matter what their age is or where they live.

As a nursing home administrator in North Missouri, I am hopeful that Rep. Sam Graves will support this important legislation as well.

If Congress passes this bill, not only would our lawmakers help dialysis patients, they would be providing a fiscally responsible healthcare solution. According to a study from the Health Management Associates, passing this bill would decrease federal spending by $1.2 billion over the next 10 years. This reduction in federal spending is in part because this legislation extends the Medicare Secondary Payer (MSP) period for patients with coverage through an employer. This allows them to receive private coverage for longer rather than using Medicare, lessening the government’s financial responsibility.

The Jack Reynolds Memorial Medigap Expansion Act allows kidney patients to live the life they deserve, one free of financial strain and worry about how to pay for lifesaving treatments. We must use intelligent, fiscally responsible approaches to healthcare like this one and create solutions that are effective in the long term. This bipartisan solution saves money and, most importantly, saves lives.

I encourage more members of Congress to support this bill and be an advocate both for kidney patients across America and for smart healthcare policies. Dialysis patients especially are counting on lawmakers in Washington to pass the Jack Reynolds Memorial Medigap Expansion Act to improve the quality of their life. After the past two years of conversation surrounding healthcare and policy, I sincerely hope that we can come together and work across the aisle to make this piece of legislation a priority in 2022.