ASN Seeks Policy Changes to Aid Kidney Care During COVID-19 Pandemic

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The ASN is working closely with the US government to ensure the safety and health of the more than 37 million Americans living with kidney diseases during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 18, 2020, ASN President Anupam Agarwal, MD, FASN, and leaders from 15 other professional medical societies met by phone with President Donald Trump to stress the unique challenges of caring for patients during the pandemic. The more than 500,000 US patients on dialysis and the 222,000 with kidney transplants are among those most vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19.

Other leaders of the US COVID-19 response team participating in the call included Vice President Mike Pence, US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, MD, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma, and Coronavirus Response Coordinator Ambassador Deborah Birx, MD.

During the call, Dr. Agarwal expressed ASN’s commitment to working with the vice president and his task force, partners within the federal agencies, and congressional representatives to ensure the unique needs of kidney patients are met during the pandemic. He explained that testing and personal protective equipment shortages are felt acutely by dialysis and transplant patients and by healthcare professionals.

ASN submitted a letter to HHS Secretary Azar asking him to prioritize COVID-19 testing for dialysis and transplant patients and for both living and deceased donors. ASN also requested several temporary policy changes during the pandemic, including a pause in Quality Assessment and Performance Improvement (QAPI) requirements that mandate home patients receive routine testing at dialysis centers and a temporary suspension of the QAPI reporting requirement.

Already, the Medicare program has relaxed its rules for telehealth visits to reduce the need for patients to leave their homes for care. The decision was strongly supported by ASN. The change will allow nephrologists, other physicians, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, and licensed social workers to provide telehealth to any home. Services may include office visits, mental health counseling, and preventive screening.

“During the COVID-19 national emergency, covered health care providers subject to the HIPAA Rules may seek to communicate with patients, and provide telehealth services, through remote communications technologies,” according to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). To facilitate this, the OCR will “exercise discretion” and not enforce HIPAA restrictions that had previously limited which technologies could be used for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

April 2020 (Vol. 12, Number 4)