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Remarks to the National Kidney Foundation

Eric D. Hargan
Virtual conference
March 26, 2020
Washington, D.C.

Whether you’re a patient with kidney disease yourself, a health professional who works with kidney patients, a researcher, or involved in supporting kidney patients some other way, I’m grateful for what you do.

You, and your dedication to American kidney health, are one of the main reasons I have hope that we can deliver on our shared vision.

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you all for joining me today. I’m so glad we can utilize technology to stay in touch and continue our work on important initiatives—whether that’s improving kidney care in America, combating the coronavirus, or the intersection of each.

Right at the start, I want to thank not only our patient innovators we’re recognizing today, but also the leaders of the National Kidney Foundation and the American Society of Nephrology, for teaming up with HHS to make so much of our work possible.

I know that COVID-19 has been on the forefront of the minds of the American people these past few weeks, and especially on the minds of people who have serious underlying medical conditions like kidney disease. Please know that protecting vulnerable communities is a top priority for this administration during this national crisis.

Patients with kidney disease are in one of the riskiest categories, because many of them need to leave their home to receive care multiple times a week. To America’s kidney patients, I want to say, we will do everything we can to help make sure that you can receive the care you need in the safest way possible.

Last week, on behalf of Secretary Azar and the entire department, I held a call with a number of kidney stakeholders to get an update on what’s happening on the ground for kidney patients, and what we ought to be considering to keep kidney patients safe. We set up an email address to receive these submissions, [email protected], and the deadline for this round of submissions was yesterday.

We’ve already begun reviewing these responses, and I encourage you to send in thoughts either personally or on behalf of organizations.

I also want to reassure you that, while our response to the COVID-19 pandemic is our top priority, we remain laser-focused on our other initiatives, like improving the quality of care and outcomes for those suffering from kidney disease.

It is especially important to keep that focus on advancing kidney care, because I believe we’re on the cusp of a major revolution in how America treats kidney disease. And, certainly, we wouldn’t be at that point without all of you who have joined me today.

Whether you’re a patient with kidney disease yourself, a health professional who works with kidney patients, a researcher, or involved in supporting kidney patients some other way, I’m grateful for what you do.

You, and your dedication to American kidney health, are one of the main reasons I have hope that we can deliver on our shared vision.

As some of you may remember, the first place where we began laying out this administration’s vision for kidney care was the National Kidney Foundation’s patient gathering in 2019.

We were told that just identifying all of the problems in American kidney care, and all the opportunities we have to improve it, was more attention than federal leaders had paid to this issue in a long time. Well, we followed up that diagnosis with a plan for action: President Trump’s executive order on advancing American kidney health, and the initiative it launched at HHS.

The execution of that plan is well underway, and I want to take a few moments to give you a brief update on it, and then I’ll announce the 25 winners of our KidneyX Patient Innovator challenge.

The President’s plan has three parts: first, more efforts to prevent, detect, and slow the progression of kidney disease; second, more options for treating kidney failure, from both today's technologies and those of the future; and third, more organs for transplants.

On the first prong, last fall, as I’m sure many of you know, Secretary Azar launched a partnership with the National Kidney Foundation and the American Society of Nephrology to educate Americans on how they can improve their kidney health. This kind of collaboration is vital if we want to increase the promotion of early identification, treatment, and management of kidney disease.

These efforts to educate and inform the public to prevent kidney disease have to be supplemented by changing the incentives around kidney care. That’s why we’ve launched four optional payment models, known as Kidney Care Choices, expected to enroll more than 200,000 Medicare patients in arrangements with new incentives to prevent the progression of kidney disease and manage kidney patients’ health.

Better payment incentives are also a powerful and necessary piece of transforming the care kidney patients receive once they do need dialysis.

We’re continuing to review and consider comments on a model known as ESRD Treatment Choices, which is designed to give a significant portion of dialysis providers new incentives to encourage dialysis in the home.

Changing our payment systems could also spur adoption of new, cutting-edge technology that make in-home dialysis easier and more affordable—and new kinds of technologies could help us in emergency situations like the one we’re facing now.

Our Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response has been in the process of testing out portable dialysis machines for use after natural disasters, an effort that was spurred after our government’s response to 2017’s devastating hurricanes.

The kind of capabilities we need for response in disaster settings caused by hurricanes, like the ability to use publicly available water rather than medical-grade water, will be useful in expanding portable dialysis access for Americans in all kinds of other situations. That includes, potentially, a pandemic situation like today where we’d love for more patients not to have to go into a dialysis center.

Particularly during this crisis, we are working to explore every possible site of care for dialysis patients.

As technology continues to afford us more efficient delivery models, we can look beyond the raditional categories of homes, dialysis centers, and hospitals to consider options such as clinics, community centers, and mobile dialysis units.

Within all of the payment models we’ve put forth, we’re not just going to pay for better, more person-centered prevention and dialysis—we’re also going to provide new incentives to encourage transplants.

Today, we have a system that pays for dialysis, rather than transplants—so what we get is lots of dialysis, and not as many transplants as we should have. It’s time for that to change.

Transforming lives through more kidney transplants will also require expanding the supply of transplantable organs, and we’re hard at work on that, too. There were a number of helpful steps laid out in the President’s executive order that we’ve begun to take action on, such as reforming the metrics by which we judge organ procurement organizations, and expanding the support we provide for living donors. We issued proposals on both of those fronts from CMS and HRSA in December, the comment period has closed, and we’re reviewing those comments now.

We want to do everything we can to improve America’s transplant system, from supporting those who chose to be donors, to managing the procurement of organs, to improving the care received by transplant patients.

We’ve also brought that kind of collaborative spirit, looking at all possible areas for improvement, to something I know many of you are familiar with: KidneyX, our partnership with the American Society of Nephrology to accelerate development of breakthrough technologies. In just a moment, I’ll have the honor of announcing the Category 1 and Category 2 winners of our Patient Innovator Challenge, which is an important step forward in recognizing the vital perspective of kidney patients.

You all know what a burden kidney disease can be on patients’ lives, and I know that all of you want nothing more than to change that—in part, by putting patients in control.

You want to build for kidney patients what President Trump envisions for all Americans: a system that's personalized, patient-centric, puts you in control, and treats you like a person, not a number. With your help, that's the kind of system we're going to build for kidney disease, and it’s going to deliver what we all want for America's kidney patients: better health and longer lives. I look forward to working with all of your toward those goals.

With that, it’s now my pleasure to announce our KidneyX Patient Innovator Challenge winners. We have 25 winners to announce and celebrate today, plus dozens of other excellent submissions. Thank you to everyone who participated.

These awards are a tribute to the hard work that so many men and women across HHS have been doing to advance American kidney health, and I want to thank everyone who submitted ideas and took part.

As most of you know, the KidneyX: Patient Innovator Challenge contest, funded by the National Kidney Foundation, invited individuals, communities, businesses, institutions, and not-for-profit organizations, among others, to submit ideas on how to improve therapeutic options and quality of life for people living with kidney diseases.

A panel of judges and reviewers spent months reviewing the more than 120 submissions to select 10 winners in Category 1 – solutions already tried or put into practice—and 15 winners in Category 2—ideas for solutions not yet created.

I’ll announce the winners in alphabetical order. Each of these 10 winners in Category 1 will receive $4,000 each.  So, Category 1:

Ann Chokas of Great Neck, New York, for designing a smartphone app to monitor blood test results.

Chris Jaynes of Cardiff-by-the-sea, California, for creating a way to extend the life of a kidney removed for transplantation to give surgeons more time to access the organ.

Deepa Kariyawasam of London, England, for creating kidney patient diet booklets geared toward minority cuisine.

David Kuraguntla of San Francisco, California for creating a device to monitor fluid levels in dialysis patients.

Sarah Lee of Baltimore, Maryland for creating a device that disinfects tubing for peritoneal dialysis.

Robert Richter of Coconut Creek, Florida, for creating a device to help a one-handed Vet administer home dialysis.

Chelsea Roman of Sacramento, California, for creating a 3D-printable wrist cuff to secure needles used in home dialysis.
Lana Schmidt of Liberty, Illinois, for using a state-funded home aide program to hire someone to help her with home dialysis;

Deborah Stanzak of Twinsburg, Ohio, for creating clothing suited for dialysis patients;

John Vito of Rochester, New York, for creating a video cooking series for end-stage kidney failure patients.

Congratulations to all the Category 1 winners!

Now, moving on to the second group. Each of our 15 winners in Category 2 will receive $2,000.

The winners in Category 2 are:

Brian Bender of Raleigh, North Carolina, for a home-use device in development to track sodium levels in urine;

Andrew Brookens of Denver, Colorado for a proposal to open a home dialysis education center to train patients;

Chandra Chhun of McDonough, Georgia, for a proposal to develop an online platform to help home dialysis patients;

Anthony Clark of Wilmington, Delaware, for creating kidney food labels for kidney patients;

Jaclyn Giannakoulis of Stoughton, Massachusetts, to developing a program to rent home dialysis cyclers for patients when they travel;

Nieltje Gedney of Kearneysville, West Virginaia, to developing a toolkit for home dialysis patients to give realtime feedback;

Varun Goyal of Carmel, Indiana, to developing an app to help transplant patients keep track of their medicines;

Lonnie Green of Kennesaw, Georgia, to develop a peer mentorship program for dialysis patients;

Mary Lou Hurley of Bloomingdale, New Jersey, to create a handout about transplants for patients to give to emergency room professionals;

Daniel Marsh of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to develop an “open chair” app to help patients find a realtime dialysis center that has an immediate opening;

Sandeep Padala of Augusta, Georgia, to develop help from dialysis patients who are released from prison;

Emmett Smith of Seattle, Washington, to develop a device to help with dialysis catheters;

Ben Studdard of Nashville, Tennessee, to create music videos to teach patients about medical terms;

Cher Thomas of Galveston, Texas, to develop a program to link dentists with patients on the transplant waitlist;

Joyce Vergili of Kingston, New York, to create a device to monitor blood potassium levels.

Congratulations to you all, and thank you to everyone for taking part in this challenge—everyone involved has helped us take a meaningful step toward empowering kidney patients to improve their own health and their care.

Let me close by thanking the National Kidney Foundation for adjusting the schedule today to allow us to recognize the winners—and thanking all of you for adjusting your lives to help defeat COVID-19.

By staying home and following the President and CDC’s national guidelines, you are playing a role in helping to keep fellow Americans, especially the most vulnerable, safe.

And thank you also for your hard work and drive to solve one of our country’s biggest health challenges.

I look forward to working with many of you in the future, and please stay healthy and safe.

Content created by Speechwriting and Editorial Division 
Content last reviewed on March 26, 2020