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Higgins: Progress in push to cover antirejection medication for kidney transplant patients

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Sat, Dec 12th 2020 07:00 am

House passes bill extending immunosuppressant drug coverage beyond current 36-month allowance

Congressman Brian Higgins announced approval of legislation expanding Medicare coverage for the prescription drugs patients are required to take to reduce the risk of rejection following a kidney transplant.

In January, Higgins joined the Kidney Foundation of Western New York and health care providers at the Regional Kidney Care Center of Excellence at Erie County Medical Center to advocate for passage of the measure, which he co-sponsored.

“The arbitrary limitation on Medicare’s immunosuppressant drug coverage doesn’t match the real-life medical need of kidney transplant patients,” Higgins said. “This legislation not only makes sense, it will save money and lives.”

Most patients with end-stage kidney disease are eligible for Medicare regardless of their age. Those who undergo a kidney transplant are required to take immunosuppressant drugs for life. However, drug coverage under Medicare for these specific drugs currently ends after just 36 months, causing some patients to ration or refrain from taking medication, which increases the chance of organ rejection.

Jeremy Morlock, director of the Kidney Foundation of Western New York, said, “Many people have long and rich lives after receiving a kidney transplant. Missing a single dose of immunosuppressant medication can increase the chance of organ failure. By extending Medicare Part B coverage, we can prevent transplanted organs from being lost and lives from being cut short.”

Language that mirrors that in the Drug Coverage for Kidney Transplant Patients Act (HR 5534) was included in legislation (HR 2477) approved by the House of Representatives this week. The Senate will also need to act.

“We thank Congressman Higgins for working so hard to get this important legislation passed,” said Dr. Liise Kayler, program director, Regional Transplantation and Kidney Care Center of Excellence at ECMC. “This bill guarantees kidney transplant recipients access to medication, which is vital to keeping their new organs healthy.”

Morlock added, “During the COVID-19 crisis, our foundation has been able to help some transplant recipients unable to afford immunosuppressive drugs, but there are many more patients in our community who struggle to afford these lifesaving medications. The U.S. House of Representatives' passage of this bill is an important step toward protecting the health of patients and honoring the gift of life made by organ donors. We are grateful to Congressman Higgins for his continued commitment to this critical legislation.”

The CDC reports more than 726,000 people in the U.S. are currently on dialysis or living with a kidney transplant. 

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