Medicare Dialysis Facilities: Beneficiary Access Stable and Problems in Payment System Being Addressed

GAO-04-450 Published: Jun 25, 2004. Publicly Released: Jun 25, 2004.
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Medicare covers about 90 percent of patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD), the permanent loss of kidney function. Most ESRD patients receive regular hemodialysis treatments, a process that removes toxins from the blood, at a dialysis facility. A small percentage dialyzes-at home. From 1991 through 2001, the ESRD patient population more than doubled, from about 201,000 to 406,000. As the need for services grows, so do concerns about beneficiary access to and Medicare payment for dialysis services. The Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP Benefits Improvement and Protection Act of 2000 directed GAO to study beneficiaries' access to dialysis services. In this report, GAO (1) assessed the supply of dialysis facilities and the services they provide, overall and relative to beneficiary residence, and (2) assessed the extent to which Medicare payments for dialysis services are adequate and the methodology is appropriate. In order to assess the supply of dialysis facilities, GAO used Facility Surveys collected by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and outpatient claims, the bills submitted to Medicare by providers of certain outpatient services from 1998 through 2001. To assess the adequacy of Medicare payment and the appropriateness of the payment methodology, GAO used 2001 Medicare cost reports and outpatient claims submitted by freestanding dialysis facilities.

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