Coordinated care bill offers much-needed improvements for Wisconsin kidney patients

By: Sue Hughes (Wis Politics)

More than a year and a half on from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus remains a massive concern for communities across Wisconsin. The most recent data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services shows that every single county in the state has at least a “high” case activity level, with the vast majority having either “very high” or “critically high” designations for their case activity.

With COVID-19 still posing such a threat, we owe it to the most vulnerable people among us to remain vigilant and take every step to ensure that they are safe from the virus, and that they can safely and reliably access the care that they need in the years to come. Unfortunately for patients with End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), who are among the most at-risk patients for COVID-19, that is still a considerable obstacle.

For the more than 5,000 Wisconsinites who suffer from ESRD, that is largely because of a lack of coordination in the care they receive. For many patients, their doctors aren’t in communication with each other about what the patient needs or what treatments patients are receiving from them.

Instead, that duty lies squarely with the patient themselves, which can have disastrous implications for their overall health. Medical information that their nephrologist and their primary care doctor should be sharing with each other is instead relayed by the patient, running the risk of patients having redundant or even incompatible treatments. If they have to see doctors for other conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure – which a large percentage of ESRD patients do – the problem is even bigger.

I was happy to see recently that one of Wisconsin’s own members of Congress, Representative Glenn Grothman, came out in support of legislation that can help. The BETTER Kidney Care Act, which was introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate earlier this year, would create a system that enables care providers to better communicate with each other and work together to address a patient’s overall health, rather than working separately to address individual conditions.

This would be a major improvement for ESRD patients across the state who are struggling because of a lack of access to coordinated care services, and it’s good that Representative Grothman recognizes how big an issue this is. Now, I hope our other members in the House, as well as Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson, throw their support behind this important bill as well.

The BETTER Kidney Care Act is about more than just making sure patients can have coordinated care, too. It also offers dental coverage, which is something that ESRD patients hoping to qualify for a transplant need. And, for those patients who struggle to get to their dialysis clinics without assistance from others, it also offers transportation services to and from their clinic, which will help them keep up with appointments, maintain their health, and potentially even qualify for a transplant down the road.

For too long, our conversations around healthcare accessibility have left ESRD patients on the sideline, and the risk they face from the COVID-19 pandemic has only put a new spotlight on that. It is time for us to take action to help them, and the BETTER Kidney Care Act offers the opportunity to do exactly that. I applaud Representative Grothman for supporting it, and am confident more of Wisconsin’s elected representatives from both sides of the aisle will join him in passing this vital bill.

– Hughes is a retired RN who holds a bachelor of science in nursing.

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