NBA All-Star Alonzo Mourning Visits South Carolina Legislature to Urge Expanded Insurance Coverage for State's Kidney Patients and Disabled

Mar 24, 2010, 12:52 ET from National Kidney Foundation

Mourning Joins National Kidney Foundation Serving the Carolinas, S.C. Region, Dialysis Patient Citizens and Area Patients to Ask for Access to "Medigap" Secondary Coverage to Improve Kidney and Disabled Patients' Health, Safeguard their Families, and Reduce the Burden on Taxpayers

COLUMBIA, S.C., March 24 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Former NBA Defensive Player of the Year and Miami Heat stand-out Alonzo Mourning, who is also a kidney transplant recipient, participated in numerous meetings today at the State Capitol to ask lawmakers to pass key legislation this year that could help hundreds of South Carolina's kidney failure patients and thousands of disabled residents who are struggling to access health insurance for the medical care they need.

The legislation – S 1128 and H 4552 – would provide the opportunity for approximately 500 South Carolina end stage renal disease (ESRD) patients and thousands of disabled patients under the age of 65 to purchase secondary insurance coverage, known as Medigap. Under current federal law, all Medicare beneficiaries over the age of 65 are already able to purchase this insurance, which provides them with access to needed medical treatments, including kidney transplant, without cost being a barrier – and without having to "spend down" their income to become eligible for state Medicaid assistance.  Mourning asked South Carolina lawmakers that this same coverage option be extended to kidney patients and the disabled under age 65.

"From my own experience with kidney disease, I know how critical it is to have access to life-saving medical treatments, and the importance of adequate health insurance coverage," said Mourning.  "Fortunately, I was able to receive a kidney transplant, which has made all the difference in my life.  The patients represented here today deserve the same level of access to care, and I am proud to do all I can to help them attain this needed access by supporting this important legislation."

Under current Medicare law, two populations qualify for coverage: individuals over the age of 65, and those under 65 who meet certain conditions, including the diagnosis of ESRD and being deemed disabled.  While Medicare covers most medical costs, it requires patients to pay deductibles and co-pays, which most patients pay for through the assistance of secondary insurance. However, hundreds of kidney failure patients and thousands of disabled people in South Carolina under age 65 have no secondary insurance coverage, and are unable to afford their out-of-pocket medical expenses.  

Without access to secondary coverage, patients often experience delays and roadblocks in care for critical medical services because of financial challenges in making upfront payments that are required, and are forced to turn to the Medicaid program for support.  To qualify for Medicaid, some patients have to impoverish themselves and their families to qualify.  This, in turn, leads to significant health risks for patients and higher costs for South Carolina's taxpayers.

"Many people recognize Mr. Mourning as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, but many others – like me – know him as a tireless fighter and hero to millions of kidney patients, caregivers and their families," said Chad Lennox, Executive Director of Dialysis Patient Citizens, a national, patient-led, non-profit organization which represents approximately 450 members in South Carolina. "The kidney community is honored to have the support of Mr. Mourning once again to fight for kidney patients and improve their access to care.   His work over the years to support education, awareness, and access improvements at the national level – and now in South Carolina – is vital to kidney patients and their families. "

At an afternoon briefing, Mourning was joined by National Kidney Foundation Serving the Carolinas Division President Beth Irick, kidney care advocates and patients who would be positively impacted by Medigap coverage.  Participants urged lawmakers to pass this legislation, enabling South Carolina to join the 29 other states that have already done so.  They also referenced analyses of the 29 states that have passed similar legislation, noting that expanding access to Medigap insurance has not impacted insurance premiums in the 29 states and will not do so in South Carolina either.

"Speaking on behalf of South Carolina's kidney patients, we strongly encourage our legislators to support Medigap legislation, and by doing so, provide patients with access to the care they desperately need," said Irick.  "This secondary coverage support is critical for many patients, and without it many are forced to make the difficult choice between paying their medical bills or covering their basic living expenses.  No patient should have to make that choice, especially when we have a practical solution at hand."  

Advocates at the briefing also expressed that expanded access to Medigap secondary insurance not only makes good sense from a healthcare perspective, it also makes good financial sense for the state of South Carolina.  If enacted, recent estimates indicate that this legislation could result in $4.6 million in savings to the state's Medicaid program over five years.

In addition to his stand-out NBA career – which included winning a national championship with the Miami Heat, twice being named NBA defensive player of the Year and winning a gold medal on the U.S. Men's Senior National Team – Mourning has made it his mission to give back to kidney patients through broader kidney community efforts and initiatives through his own organization, Zo's Fund for Life.  The organization aims to raise funds for research for a cure, education for doctors and the general public, testing for early detection and providing support to those not able to afford the very expensive medication currently used to treat Focal Glumerulosclerosis – the type of kidney disease Mourning had prior to his transplant.

In addition to the briefing, Mourning joined area kidney disease patients for a "meet-and-greet" and participated in informal meetings with members of the State House and Senate throughout the day, in which he provided his perspective on the growing impact of chronic kidney disease in South Carolina and the importance of kidney disease education, awareness and access to care.

SOURCE National Kidney Foundation