Jennifer Nix Loves Her “Socialist” Kidney

October 1, 2009

To most Americans, single-payer health care seems like political science fiction, a bold idea that could never happen here. Most people don't realize that we already have single-payer in the U.S. for certain groups of people. The familiar examples are Medicare (for the aged) and Medicaid (for the poor). My guest Jennifer Nix knows first hand about another group of Americans who get single payer health care: patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) who need dialysis or kidney transplants. In 2008, Nix learned that she had inherited the same cystic kidney disease that nearly killed her father in the early seventies. In 1972, Wayne Nix was a young schoolteacher with two small children, a new mortgage, and renal failure. Dialysis was astronomically expensive and private insurers refused to cover patients with ESRD. Luckily for the Nix family, activists successfully lobbied to create Medicare ESRD, a program that has since helped over 1 million Americans survive with ESRD regardless of their ability to pay. Amazingly, the program enjoyed strong bipartisan support. It was assumed that covering ESRD patients was just a stop-gap to tide them over until universal health care covered everyone. Even Republican president Richard Nixon was on board with the idea. As we all know, we're still waiting for universal healthcare. Luckily, when Jennifer Nix found out she needed a kidney transplant, the Medicare ESRD was still there for her. If single-payer works for one disease, Nix argues, why shouldn't all Americans enjoy the same health security?

Jennifer Nix is a journalist and the publisher of Guernica Magazine. She published an essay in Salon this week about her personal and political history with single payer entitled, I Love My Socialist Kidney.

Lindsay Beyerstein is the Media Consortium's health care blogger. She writes the Daily Pulse, a compendium of TMC's best health and health care policy writing.

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