The Ventura County Star has run a series of four articles on kidney transplants.  Two of the articles feature patients who have received a kidney transplants and have difficulty affording their immunosuppression medications after the 36 month Medicare limit ends.

One of the patients, Matthew Kinney, has just lost his Medicare coverage and scrambles to find the $17,000 annually he will need to keep his body from rejecting his donated kidney. The other patient, Jeannette Castaneda, could no longer afford her meds and stopped taking them. The kidney failed and she is back on dialysis and on the waiting list to receive another kidney.


Interview with kidney patient Jeannette Castaneda. Video still from Ventura County Star

The problem patients face after their losing their 36 month Medicare limit is not a new issue. It was featured in a Sept 2009 blog post.

Another story in the series shows how Amgen, a pharmaceutical company, became a large contributor to Kidney Care Partners, which lobbied Congress to not extend coverage for immunosuppression medications if it meant reduced coverage of drugs used by dialysis patients.

Amgen is the largest manufacturer of epoetin alfa, a synthetic form of erythropoietin, sold under the brand name Epogen. Erythropoietin is a hormone produced by the kidneys that stimulates the production of red blood cells. Many patients with ESRD experience a decline in production of erythropoietin and would suffer from anemia without receiving regular injections of Epogen.

Epogen is a highly profitable drug and Amgen shareholders expect the company to defend its market. This includes funding organizations like Kidney Care Partners and lobbying Congress. Again, this is not a new story and was featured in a Dec 2009 blog post.

[Disclosure: I once held Amgen stock in my portfolio but sold it before I decided to become involved in kidney-related charities.]