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Miami Heat Fan Favorite and NBA All-Star Alonzo Mourning Visits Florida Legislature, Governor to Urge Needed Coverage for Florida Kidney Patients
Date:3/10/2009

Mourning Joins Florida Renal Coalition, National Kidney Foundation of Florida and Patients to Ask for Access to Medigap Secondary Insurance for Florida's Most Vulnerable Kidney Patients, and to Stress Importance of Education and Awareness for Kidney Disease

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., March 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Former Miami Heat stand-out and NBA Defensive Player of the Year Alonzo Mourning, who is also a kidney transplant recipient, participated in numerous meetings today at the State Capitol to ask lawmakers to pass key legislation this year that could help thousands of Florida's kidney failure patients who are struggling to access health insurance for the medical care they need.

The legislation - SB 1022 and HB 675 - would provide the opportunity for approximately 500 Florida end stage renal disease (ESRD) patients under the age of 65 to access Medigap coverage. Under current federal law, all Medicare beneficiaries over the age of 65 are already able to purchase this insurance as secondary coverage, which provides them with access to needed medical treatments, including kidney transplant, without cost being a barrier - and without having to "spend down" their income to become eligible for state Medicaid assistance. Mourning asked that this same coverage option be extended to kidney patients under age 65.

"From my own experience with kidney disease, I know how critical it is to have access to life-saving medical treatments, and the importance of coverage," said Mourning. "Fortunately, I was able to receive a kidney transplant, which has made all the difference in my life. The patients represented here today deserve the same level of access to care, and I am proud to do all I can to help them attain this needed access by supporting this important legislation."

Under current Medicare law, two populations qualify for coverage: individuals over the age of 65, and those under 65 who meet certain conditions, including the diagnosis of end stage renal disease (ESRD). While Medicare covers most medical costs, it requires patients to pay deductibles and co-pays. Most patients have secondary insurance to help with these costs. However, approximately 500 kidney patients in Florida under age 65 have no secondary insurance coverage, and cannot afford Medicare deductibles and co-pays. As a result, they often experience financial delays and roadblocks for critical medical services because of the upfront payments that are required, and are forced to turn to the Medicaid program for support. To qualify for Medicaid, patients have to impoverish themselves and often their families as well to qualify. This, in turn, leads to severe health risks for patients and higher costs for Florida's taxpayers.

"Many people recognize Mr. Mourning as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, but many others - like me - know him as a tireless fighter and hero to millions of kidney patients, caregivers and their families," said Chad Lennox, Executive Director of Dialysis Patient Citizens, a patient-led non-profit organization which also supports access to Medigap coverage for Florida's patients in need. "The kidney community is honored to have the support of Mr. Mourning again to fight for kidney patients and improve their access to care. The work he and his foundation, Zo's Fund for Life, have done for millions is admirable. His work the past few years to support education, awareness, and access improvements at the national level and now in Florida are so important to patients, their families and taxpayers."

At the briefing, sponsored by the Florida Renal Coalition, Mourning was joined by legislators and staff, National Kidney Foundation of Florida CEO Stephanie Hutchinson, patients who would be positively impacted by Medigap coverage, kidney care providers, nephrologists and others in support of this legislation.

Participants urged lawmakers to pass this legislation, enabling Florida to join the 28 other states who have already done so. They also referenced analyses of the 28 states that have passed similar legislation, noting that expanding access to Medigap insurance has not impacted insurance premiums in the 28 states and will not do so in Florida either.

"Speaking on behalf of the thousands of patients we are proud to serve in Florida, we urge state legislators to allow these patients to join open enrollment for Medigap," said Bob Loeper, Executive Director of the Florida Renal Coalition. Stephanie Hutchinson of the National Kidney Foundation agreed, "This access is critical for many patients, like the ones here with us today; we hope to count on lawmakers' support in granting this coverage assistance that will help ESRD patients avoid the physical, financial and emotional strain that accompanies an inability to access complete care and lighten the Medicaid cost burden now borne by Florida taxpayers. And we are thrilled that Mr. Mourning continues to bring such important focus on the need for awareness and education for this life-threatening disease."

Mourning, whose Miami Heat jersey will be retired on March 30, topped the Heat's all-time lists in points scored (9,459), minutes played (17,700), free throws attempted (3,896), offensive rebounds (1,505), defensive rebounds (3,302), total rebounds (4,807), blocked shots (1,625) and double-figure scoring efforts (442). In his 15-year NBA career, he also achieved an NBA championship with the Heat in 2006, was twice named NBA defensive player of the Year and won a gold medal on the U.S. Men's Senior National Team at the 2000 Olympics. After receiving his kidney transplant in December 2003, Mourning then returned to the NBA for five more seasons, retiring in 2008. In 2001, Mourning started his foundation Zo's Fund for Life to help fund research, education and patient assistance (www.zosfundforlife.org).

In addition to the briefing, Mourning joined area kidney disease patients for a "meet-and-greet" and had informal meetings with members of the State House and Senate throughout the day, in which he provided his perspective on the growing impact of chronic kidney disease in Florida and the importance of kidney disease education, awareness and access to care.


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SOURCE Florida Renal Coalition
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