Two pieces of legislation in Congress could help African Americans and others fight chronic kidney disease and survive, according to the National Kidney Foundation. One is the Chronic Kidney Disease Improvement in Research and Treatment Act (H.R. 4814), introduced by Reps. Tom Marino (R-Penn.) and John Lewis (D-Ga.) in June. The bill promotes chronic kidney disease research and education, expands care coordination efforts, and protect access to care for dialysis patients.

“This legislation calls for the federal government to provide a report on all the research that has occurred in minority populations and what those findings are,” Tonya Saffer, senior health policy director for the National Kidney Foundation, said.

The CDC defines chronic kidney disease as a condition where kidneys are damaged and cannot filter blood, allowing wastes to remain in the body, which usually causes other health problems. According to the foundation, diabetes and high blood pressure are the two main causes of kidney failure in the United States. African Americans have an increased risk of developing kidney failure with 32 percent receiving dialysis for kidney failure even though Blacks account for only 13 percent of the U.S. population, according to the foundation’s website.

She said the bill would help identify the reasons African Americans are less likely to receive a kidney transplant. “One particularly noteworthy provision in the legislation is that it requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to report to Congress the social, behavioral, and biological factors leading to kidney disease, current efforts to slow the progression of kidney disease in minority populations, and treatment patterns associated with providing care to minority populations,” Saffer said.

The Comprehensive Immunosuppressive Drug Coverage for Kidney Transplant Patients Act of 2013 (H.R. 1428/ S. 323), insures Kidney transplant patients have continuous access vital medications needed to survive by extending Medicare coverage for kidney transplant recipients. Currently, patients who receive kidney transplants lose Medicare coverage 36 months after the transplant if they are younger than 65 and have no other disabilities. “This bill helps kidney transplant recipients, who are unable to obtain health insurance once their Medicare coverage expires, maintain access to the lifesaving drugs they need to make sure they don’t reject their transplanted kidney,” Saffer said.

She said access to viable health insurance is still a problem for kidney disease patients, even though the Affordable Care Act has been initiated. “While the Affordable Care Act has helped many people access comprehensive insurance that would cover these medications, in some states many lower income individuals are still unable to get health insurance,” she said.

Tony Washington, a retired D.C. Public Schools employee, said he was fortunate to have both Medicare and insurance from his job help pay for the treatment. After being on dialysis for 13 years, Washington received a kidney transplant from a deceased donor in 2011.

As a survivor he goes to health fairs, speaking engagements, and other events suggested by the foundation to share his experiences and encourage people to have regular check-ups. “I want to put the word out there, just because you’re healthy and look good, that does not mean that you ok,” Washington said.

The National Institute of Health is conducting a study on kidney disease, where they have discovered a gene, Apol 1, that is more likely to be found in people of African-American descent at rick for kidney failure.

New cases of kidney failure among African Americans have been declining over the past few years, however, the total number of Black people diagnosed is still highest, said Constance Mere, associate professor of medicine division of Nephrology at Howard University Hospital.

LaTrina Antoine

Special to the AFRO