Cuts To Kidney Program Leave

Patients In Critical Condition

December 17, 1990|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Dawn Fischer's residence was incorrectly identified in yesterday's story on the effects of the proposed elimination of the state's kidney dialysis program. She lives in Pasadena.

The Anne Arundel County Sun regrets the error.

Dawn Fischer's fingers shook as she added up the medical bills and found it will cost her at least $7,000 next year to stay alive.

The sum was staggering for the 42-year-old Severna Park mother, who has damaged kidneys and needs daily dialysis to survive. Without state help, she fears she can't afford the life-sustaining treatments and medication.

"I'm very angry and scared," said Fischer, one of 3,472 kidney patients in Maryland threatened by the loss of state aid for dialysis.

Forced to trim governmental services to offset a burgeoning $418 million deficit, Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the Board of Public Works last month cut spending in virtually all state agencies. Among the casualties were a number of traditional public health services, including the 33-year-old Kidney Disease Program that helps patients dependent on costly dialysis treatments.

Coverage is scheduled to end Jan. 1, leaving kidney patients like Fischer with few options.

Although Medicare pays for 80 percent of dialysis costs, the national insurance program for the elderly and disabled doesn't cover the accompanying medication. Even with Medicare picking up the lion's share, kidney patients face an average $75 a week tab to continue treatment. Each dialysis costs an average $127.16, and most patients require treatments three times a week.

More than 120 kidney patients in Anne Arundel County are now scrambling to find an alternative insurance to pay for the 20 percent of dialysis costs and the medication previously covered by the Kidney Disease Program.

Some qualify for Medicaid, the federal- and state-financed insurance program for the needy. But others fear they will have to swallow the difference.

"It's going to place a real heavy burden on me," said Mark Hanson, a 27-year-old electronics technician who makes too much money to receive Medicaid, but doesn't get medical benefits. "Who can afford to have half their paycheck taken out for medical bills? It's not fair."

Born with a defective urethra that led to a kidney infection, Hanson has been on dialysis since 1984, when both kidneys had to be removed. He drives from his Severna Park home to a Baltimore dialysis center three times a week for treatments that remove toxins from his blood.

Hanson figures his medication will total more than $3,000 a year. A drug to help the bone marrow produce red blood cells costs $40 per shot alone.

Frightened by the choice of either spending more than a quarter of his salary to stay alive or quitting his job to qualify for Medicaid, Hanson is circulating a petition begging the governor to restore the $6 million program. He also wrote a letter to Schaefer charging him with endangering 3,000 lives.

"He's responsible," Hanson said. "It's very possible that people will die."

By ending the service, the state plans to save $3 million in the fiscal year ending June 30, said Michael Golden, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The state will save about $6 million in fiscal 1992.

A sister cost-cutting measure that has provoked equal outcry is a planned three-month moratorium on the Pharmacy Assistance Program. From April through June, the state won't pay for prescriptions needed by about 14,000 needy and elderly people.

The department hopes to reinstate the program when the next fiscal year starts on July 1, Golden said.

Among the 14,000 are several hundred low-income AIDS patients who rely on prescription drugs to fight life-threatening diseases, said Andrew A.

Barasda Jr., executive director of Health Education Resource Organization, a Baltimore-based AIDS advocacy group. Without these drugs, people with the human immunodeficiency virus could easily fall prey to debilitating flus, pneumonia and similar diseases, he said.

"The devastating thing really is that a lot of people who have HIV are dependent on a lot of medication to keep them alive," Barasda said. "They may well have to be hospitalized."

At least two of the 50 known AIDS patients in Anne Arundel joined about 200 protesters who demonstrated outside Schaefer's newly renovated Governor's Mansion during an open house a week ago. They also plan to join kidney patients in a rally in front of the State House today.

"We're trying everything we can to get the governor's attention," said Treva Stack, spokeswoman for the Maryland Kidney Disease Foundation, which helped spearhead both demonstrations.

Representatives from the non-profit foundation also pleaded with health officials Friday to reinstate at least part of the kidney program, Stack said. Many patients will suffer, she said, and the foundation does not have the resources to pick up the slack.

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