Must-Read: ProPublica On Kidney Dialysis

Yes, in yet another health care sector, America is paying more than other counties for worse outcomes. Depressing. But today’s major ProPublica/Atlantic piece on kidney dialysis is a fascinating read, fruit of more than a year of investigation and government file-mining. It found:

At clinics from coast to coast, patients commonly receive treatment in settings that are unsanitary and prone to perilous lapses in care. Regulators have few tools and little will to enforce quality standards. Industry consolidation has left patients with fewer choices of provider. The government has withheld critical data about clinics’ performance from patients, the very people who need it most. Meanwhile, the two corporate chains that dominate the dialysis-care system are consistently profitable, together making about $2 billion in operating profits a year.

The United States is now spending some $20 billion a year on the “hulking monster” that is our dialysis system, ProPublica reports, and here’s the takeaway:

As the United States moves to expand access to health care, dialysis offers potent lessons. Its story expresses the fears of both ends of the ideological spectrum about what can happen when the doors to care are thrown wide open: Neither government controls nor market forces have kept costs from ballooning or ensured the highest-quality care. Almost every key assumption about how the program would unfold has proved wrong.

Propublica says it plans to release a comprehensive database of dialysis facilities.