Most people have heard about kidney dialysis, but do we fully understand it? Last Week Tonight With John Oliver has shed some light on it, and now, we want to shed some. According to the National Kidney Foundation, approximately 660,000 Americans are being treated for kidney failure — and 468,000 of them are undergoing dialysis.
Let’s look at what dialysis patients truly go through, and why we all need to be made aware of it.
There is an entire for-profit industry centered around kidney dialysis.
Of course, health insurance and pharmaceutical companies are all for-profit, but kidney dialysis companies are an entity unto themselves. Oliver calls out Frensius Medical Care and DaVita as two of the giants of the industry — but spends most of his commentary on DaVita, where its own CEO compares its service to the drive-thru service you receive at Taco Bell. For Taco Bell, that’s great. For kidney dialysis, it’s borderline inhumane, and is evidence that the focus is on money rather than the patient.
Many patients currently undergoing kidney dialysis don’t realize that kidney transplants are an option for them.
According to a 2014 study from Johns Hopkins University, one-third of kidney dialysis patients were not made aware of the transplant option before being sent for dialysis. What’s more, their doctors are required to inform them of every available option in the first place. And it’s clear that transplants are the better option — according to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, life expectancy for patients on dialysis is five years, while those who receive transplants are expected to live 12-20 more years with a kidney from a live donor, and 8-12 more years with a kidney from a deceased donor.
Not all dialysis centers are up to par in terms of cleanliness.
Yup, that’s right. Before going to a dialysis center, please check to make sure it has a high rating in terms of cleanliness and disinfecting. Based on a 2010 report from ProPublica, “dirty or unsafe conditions, including dried blood on treatment chairs, walls, and floors, were noted” in 1,500 dialysis centers.
Richard Nixon (yes, that Richard Nixon) called for a 1972 law that provided government funding to any patients requiring kidney dialysis.
There’s a lot you can say about Richard Nixon during his presidency, but his focus was clearly not on money in this case — and on care for patients who have to undergo an exhausting, debilitating process on a sometimes tri-weekly basis.
Because so many more people have required kidney dialysis in recent years, companies like DaVita opened clinics to accommodate the rising need.
So, like everything else, kidney dialysis has become a business — and it is now more than it ever was. DaVita operates over 2,000 privately owned dialysis clinics across the country, which are accessible to anyone who can pay for private clinics. Treatments at the centers are not covered under Nixon’s dialysis law, as they are privately-funded outpatient clinics. Why the need for the clinics? The cost of federally-funded dialysis only accounts for one percent of the federal budget.
So, with all of these people who need treatment for faulty kidneys, why aren’t there more transplants taking place when it’s the better option?
In 2010, my own father served as a live donor for a childhood friend of mine who required a kidney transplant. But, that doesn’t happen for everyone. Rather than the government creating incentives for donors so that those with faulty kidneys would “keep out of dialysis in the first place,” live donors have become less likely to step forward — for reasons such as the possible denial of life insurance coverage for those like my father who are now living with one kidney. And while the Affordable Care Act protects live donors from being denied health insurance, there’s no telling what will become of that…
Bottom line: the process of dialysis is exhausting — as anything that can be described as process requiring “a Brita filter for your blood” would be. And kidney donors, dead or alive, have the power to eliminate a) the business of drive-thru dialysis and b) the need for it altogether.
If we all learned just a little bit more about kidney dialysis — a health issue not getting the attention it deserves in spite of the fact that kidney disease is the ninth leading cause of death in the United States — maybe we’d be more likely to give of ourselves.
And to declare, #WhenIDiePleaseTakeMyKidneys.
Watch the full segment on Last Week Tonight With John Oliver: