Medicare's End Stage Renal Disease Program

Health Care Financ Rev. Fall 2000;22(1):55-60.


Perhaps no other Federal Government program can lay claim to have saved as many lives as the Medicare end stage renal disease (ESRD) program. Since its inception in 1973, as a result of the Social Security Amendments of 1972 (Public Law 92-603, section 299I), over 1 million persons have received life-saving renal replacement therapy under this program. Prior to the enactment of this legislation, treatment was limited to a very few patients due to its extremely high cost and the limited number of dialysis machines. In the 1960s, it was not uncommon for hospitals that had dialysis machines to appoint special committees to review applicants for dialysis and decide who should receive treatment, the others were left to die of renal failure. Public Law 92-603 removed this odious task from the nephrology community. A person with ESRD is entitled to Medicare if he/she is fully or currently insured for benefits under Social Security, or is a spouse or dependent of an insured person. Consequently, entitlement is less than universal, with 92 percent of all persons with ESRD qualifying for Medicare coverage.