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Dialysis: An Experiment In Universal Health Care

Posted Nov 09 2010 12:00am
Every year, more than 100,000 Americans start dialysis treatment, a form of chronic care given to people with failing kidneys. And for many, the cost is completely free. Since 1972, when Congress granted comprehensive coverage under Medicare to any patient diagnosed with kidney failure, both dialysis and kidney transplants have been covered for all renal patients.

But a new joint investigation between The Atlantic and ProPublica found many problems with dialysis in the U.S.: The cost of treatment is among the world's highest, while the U.S. mortality rate for dialysis patients is one of the world's worst. One in four patients will die within 12 months of starting treatment.

Investigative reporter Robin Fields, who spent the past year reviewing thousands of documents and interviewing more than 100 patients, doctors, policymakers and experts, found systematic failures in the way dialysis centers are set up in the United States.

"At clinics from coast to coast, patients commonly receive treatment in settings that are unsanitary and prone to perilous lapses in care," she writes in a piece that will be published in the December issue of The Atlantic. "Regulators have few tools and little will to enforce quality standards. Industry consolidation has left patients with fewer choices of provider. [And] the government withholds critical data about clinics' performance from patients, the very people who need it most."

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