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Momentum Builds in Florida Legislature to Rename Proposed Legislation After Miami Heat Fan Favorite and NBA All-Star Alonzo Mourning

'Alonzo Mourning Access to Care Act' Would Provide Medigap Secondary Insurance to Florida's Most Vulnerable Kidney Patients

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., April 23 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Former Miami Heat stand-out and NBA Defensive Player of the Year Alonzo Mourning, who is also a kidney transplant recipient and leading patient advocate for those suffering from kidney disease and kidney failure, is expected to receive an unusual honor today when the Florida Legislature considers renaming a bill after him that is currently up for vote.

Mourning recently made rounds in Tallahassee on behalf of the kidney community to advocate for a bill that could help kidney failure patients who are struggling to access health insurance for the care they need. His efforts caught the attention of Members of the Florida Legislature and Florida's kidney community who have proposed renaming the bill, "The Alonzo Mourning Access to Care Act."

Countless legislators have stepped forward to lend their support to the bill and get behind the movement to rename it in Mourning's honor. Senate Majority Leader Alex Diaz de la Portilla commended Mourning for taking up this issue, saying: "Florida kidney patients are fortunate to have the support of Mr. Mourning in their fight for improved access to care."

"We are no longer going to allow these vulnerable patients to be excluded," said Rep. Ritch Workman, the Republican lead sponsor of the legislation. He called Mourning an "all-star on and off the court. Alonzo Mourning has taken his success and is using it to ensure that others have the same advantages he had." And Rep. Mary Brandenburg, the Democratic co-sponsor of the bill, concurred, "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."

"This legislation will go a long way in ensuring thousands of vulnerable Floridians like myself gain access to the medical care we need without burdensome regulations putting us and our families at risk," added kidney transplant patient and advocate Denise Martinez of Miami.

During Mourning's advocacy efforts last month, Governor Charlie Crist said he would sign the bill and he would like for Mourning to return to Tallahassee if and when the legislature passes it and the Governor signs it into law. Mourning agreed, asking the Governor to attend his jersey retirement party on March 30. Not only did the Governor attend the ceremony, he spoke at the event as well.

Mourning said, "I am just so touched and humbled by this incredible gesture from both Republicans and Democrats in the Florida Legislature, as well as my friends throughout the kidney community. From my own experience with kidney disease, I know how critical it is to have access to life-saving medical treatments, such as dialysis services, transplantation, and prescription medications, and the importance of coverage."

"The Alonzo Mourning Access to Care Act" would give Florida end stage renal disease (ESRD) patients under the age of 65 access to Medigap coverage assistance. Under federal law, all Medicare beneficiaries over age 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, in many cases the only option for this population. Mourning asked that this same option be extended to kidney patients under age 65. The current bill has been approved by committee and is poised for final passage by the full legislature.

Stephanie Hutchinson, CEO of the National Kidney Foundation of Florida, who accompanied Mourning in advocating for the bill and supports renaming the legislation, said, "Alonzo is a remarkable human being. He had a lot of choices in his recent retirement, and he chose a path to help others -- specifically, those struggling with kidney disease and kidney failure. One day many years from now, many will remember him for his remarkable athletic achievements, but many more will remember him for how he helped millions of Americans afflicted with this dreadful disease. That is his legacy."

"My passion and focus for advocating for kidney patients is even greater now that I have officially retired from professional basketball and can devote more time to my charity pursuits to help others," added Mourning, who shares his experiences, trials and triumphs on and off the courts with the publication of his first book titled, Resilience. "I was fortunate enough to be able to have excellent care and a kidney transplant which made all the difference in my life. I am proud to do all I can to help my fellow patients attain access to this care by supporting this important legislation."

Two populations qualify for Medicare coverage: individuals over age 65, and those under 65 who meet certain conditions, including the diagnosis of 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 2,000 kidney patients in Florida under age 65 have no secondary insurance coverage, and cannot afford their deductibles and co-pays. As a result, they often experience delays and roadblocks for critical medical services because of the required upfront payments, and are forced to turn to the state's Medicaid program for support -- impoverishing themselves and often their families to qualify.

"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, President of the Florida Renal Coalition. Stephanie Hutchinson of the National Kidney Foundation of Florida agreed, "This access is critical for many patients, so we are counting 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 topped the Miami 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). He 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 returned to the NBA for five more seasons, retiring in 2008.

With the possible renaming of this critical legislation, the ball is back in Alonzo Mourning's court.

SOURCE National Kidney Foundation of Florida
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