Tuesday, December 14, 2010

U.S. Pays For Kidney, Not for Upkeep: Policy Saves Life, Then Risks It (Written October 14, 2009)

This is an article my dad read this past Sunday in the Inquirer. He showed it to me and made me get into the writing mood. Please read the article, and I will write my opinion and thoughts afterwards.

Posted on Sun, Oct. 4, 2009

Policy Saves Life, Then Risks It

By Monica Yant Kinney, Inquirer Columnist

In 2003, Leonard Porter received a kidney transplant. After he recovered, he felt so good he resumed a grueling job in construction.

"With a healthy kidney," recalled Porter, 40, of West Philadelphia, "I got my life back."

But maintaining that quality of life hinged on taking medication that tricks Porter's body into thinking his brother's kidney is his own. Those two antirejection drugs can run $3,000 a month.

Medicare picked up 80 percent of the cost, but only for three years.

Porter swallowed his last pill in June, wept, and waited. Last weekend, feeling fatigued and bloated, the once-robust bricklayer checked into a hospital.

Porter's perfect kidney was failing, thanks to a health-care system that conspired against him.

"I can't believe they'd give me a kidney and not help me keep it," he said, angrily. "What's the point?"

Porter's doctor asks the same question every day, especially as politicians rail against a public health-care option.

"When you transplant a patient, you adopt them," explained Serban Constantinescu, a nephrologist at Temple University Hospital. "When you adopt someone, don't you have a moral obligation to cover their medication?"

Institutionalized idiocy
The government got into the kidney business in the 1970s after Congress decided that Medicare would cover end-stage renal disease regardless of age or income.

"We have this funny version of national health insurance - if you have this one condition," said Robert Field, a Drexel University professor of law and public health.

But what's funny about a system that forks over $100,000 for a kidney transplant, then sticks recipients with a $36,000 annual prescription bill? When the organ fails because a patient stops taking medication he can't afford, Medicare happily picks up the $71,000-a-year cost of dialysis - for life.

Cost-cutting that leads to double the spending hardly makes sense, Field noted, "but I don't think anyone sat down and said, 'Let's make an idiotic decision.' "

Yet the idiocy ensnares patients like Porter all the time.

He earned too much for Medicaid, but isn't married and didn't have workplace insurance. For a while, Porter spent half his paycheck on private secondary coverage.

"I dropped the policy when I could no longer afford it," he admitted. "But then I couldn't find another insurance company to take me."

A health-care quagmire
The better Porter felt after his kidney transplant, the more he realized his life depended on medication beyond his reach. Eventually, the father of three was reduced to begging for drug samples.

"We see this Catch-22 all the time," said Jacqueline Silver, a Temple transplant social worker. "If your kidneys are working fine, you're not sick anymore. But they're only working fine because of the medicine."

Porter was encouraged to go on welfare so he could get the pills he needed for free. He refused out of pride and principle.

"Welfare might pay for my medication, but it's not going to pay my rent," he said. "I'm a single parent. I'm a taxpayer. I need to work, and I need to keep this kidney."

"I'll pay for the pills," he pleaded. "I just can't pay for all of it."

In June, Porter lost his job and apartment. He rationed his medicine until it was gone.

"At that moment," Constantinescu said, "the battle to save the transplant is lost." Porter's body began fighting the foreign kidney, though it took weeks for him to notice.

"I knew the kidney was damaged," the shamed man said, "but I thought maybe they could save it."

Constantinescu assured Porter he was not to blame and vowed to put him back on the transplant list.

Porter is scared and skeptical.

"I would love to get another kidney," he said, "but only if I can get help with the medication."

He already had his heart broken once. Another failure may kill him.

Now, this article got me to thinking about his situation. I am so deeply saddened that this happened to Mr. Porter. Anyone with the heart, drive and determination to want to pursue a Second Chance at Life, or Life for that matter, is COMMENDABLE. This gentleman, let alone anyone with any type of illness, did not ask for this to happen to them. This happened by Chance and Genetics. When Mr. Porter received his Transplant, he like many others felt amazing! Trust me, I know (My Hand over the Young Lady).

With Mr. Porter's situation, it is unfortunate and painful that his employer did not offer Health Insurance. Had they offered this critical item, he would be living his Life and Enjoying it. he may not have been informed that there was insurance help for Transplant Medication. There may have been a chance that the Social Worker he had did not inform him of the options available to him. For those who have Chronic Kidney Failure, there is the Chronic Renal Disease Program (CRDP). This organization is specifically designed to assist Kidney patients with medication cost for the medication associated with Kidney failure and dialysis. I sincerely hope that someone informs him of this, and I am confident that Mr. Porter will be better educated about his options. I pray that he receives another kidney. He, along with many others, is deserving.

Now. On to Medicare.

I have Medicare A, B and D. That is Hospital, Medical, and Prescription respectively. They are my Primary Insurance. When I return to work, I will have access to the employer's Health Insurance. According to the Article, Medicare will cover my meds for the next 3 years (By the date of our 2nd Kidney Transplant, that will be up to Sept. 29, 2012). After that, "I am on my own." Thankfully, I have CDRP, AARP Rx, and Blue Cross Rx. Meaning, my meds ARE covered for as long as there is breath in my lungs. I am disappointed in Medicare for stiffing us Transplant recipients of Life Saving and Life Sustaining medication, 3 YEARS after the transplant.

Let me get this right:
$3000/month x 12 months equals to $36,000/year for Transplant medication. Medicare covers 80%, or $28,800, leaving $7,200 for us to flip. $7,200/year in monthly patient responsibility equates to $600/month. Now, Dialysis is a $71,000/ year therapy and BUSINESS. By my math, Medicare CAN save $42,200/year, just by paying the Annual 80% for Transplant Meds.

I talked to my dad about this article. He agreed with me that Medicare would save money just by paying for the 80% every year. We also agreed that there is MORE money in being sick. By this logic, Medicare would rather pay for the $71,000/year Dialysis therapy rather than sustaining a newly revitalized Life via a Transplant, which only costs a mere, meager $28,800/year. He also mentioned that we have been in this postion for 23 years. Which means we have much more knowledge and experience with this battle in regards to having access to information necessary to keep my Life intact and going strong.

I hope that the Heads of Medicare can live with themselves for robbing innocent people of their Lives.


Butterfly Effect said...

The fact that the meds costs this much really baffles me. Medicine should not cost that much. And unfortunately, when it comes to health, the powers that be profit from the unwell patient. And that too saddens me. I'm happy that you are making sure you are covered on all fronts because Andrew you have to look out for yourself out here they surely are. smh Thanks for sharing. It was hard to read about someone else's hardship but we have to see this part of life as well to appreciate life.

ABoyd378 said...


Sadly, we got to pay the people researching the meds. We got to pay the chemists, the packers, the janitors, the HazMat Team, the lab rats, the man in the goggles monitoring the screen with the snow, the gadget that is making the "BLIP!" noise, the random dude that is turning on the Bunsen Burner, and all of the Beloved Children's Characters in the Land of Make Believe in order for them to keep making the drugs that are keeping us "Healthy" and "Sane."

And Yes, there is more money in being sick. If everyone is healthy, the unemployment line would be around the corner of this round marble. *SMH*

I am trying to research Mr. Porter to see how he is doing now, and hopefully, he has received another transplant. Sadly, it is a Blood and Tissue Typing issue with that, which may cause him to wait even longer to live normally. :-(

You are very welcome and Thank You for reading!