Thursday, December 17, 2020

HealSho Project -- recap and articles on kidney disease

 Art is life. You must protect your health to thrive as an indie artist. In the US, you must have health insurance. Health insurance is a business deduction. Build your indie art business life to protect yourself and your loved ones. If you have an accident or get a chronic condition -- no insurance can mean no treatments!

Just imagine if your kidneys failed. This can happen on its own, or as the result of another infection or condition. If you aren't getting regular check-ups and blood tests, chronic conditions like this can present during moments of crisis -- an ER visit that brings a late stage diagnosis, with few options. These two articles in Scientific American cover some of the horrific experiences.. and expenses... a diagnosis like this brings...

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“Kidney Dialysis is a Booming Business. Is it also a rigged one?” by Carrie Arnold. 12.14.20

Excerpt:  “Patients with private insurance, however — including those with health benefits paid for by their employers — are a different story. Those insurance companies must negotiate payments with for-profit dialysis centers, and research has suggested that the centers have an edge in those negotiations — one they use to jack up prices. One research letter, published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Internal Medicine, found that private insurers paid, on average, over $1,000 per treatment — roughly four times Medicare’s fixed costs.

One possible reason: More than 80 percent of dialysis patients receive their treatments from either DaVita or Fresenius Medical Care, which is headquartered in Germany, giving the two companies upwards of 80 percent of the $24.7 billion American dialysis market — and significant influence over the prices charged to private insurers. What's more, both are widely known to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to the American Kidney Fund, covering the vast majority of the nonprofit’s budget. That's a problem, according to Wood. With the help of the American Kidney Fund, after all, more patients are able to stay on private insurance longer, so both companies have an incentive to keep the AKF well-funded. More patients with private insurance means DaVita and Fresenius can bill much higher prices for their dialysis services — and pad their own bottom lines….

.....As large chains, DaVita and Fresenius have more ability to negotiate prices down for drugs and other needed supplies. This increased their profit margins and made them able to buy up even more mom-and-pop clinics.

“What we're seeing in the market, I think, does have an influence on the care patients receive,” said Kevin Erickson, a nephrologist and health policy expert at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Dialysis centers acquired by large chains, Eliason and his colleagues’ research found, also used larger amounts of expensive, injectable drugs used to treat anemia, as most chronic kidney disease patients have a reduced ability to produce new red blood cells. Like all drugs, these injectables can have side effects, including increased risk of heart attack and death, especially when patients receive too high of a dose. According to a 2005 financial document from DaVita, these injectables, along with vitamin supplements, formed 40 percent of the company’s total dialysis revenue. Eliason and colleagues found that the doses of one such drug, Epogen — or epoetin alfa, as it’s called generically — increased by 129 percent after an independent clinic was acquired by a large chain.

“We’re able to look at the same patient in the same facility before and after it's acquired by one of these big companies, and we see that for that patient, their [Epogen] doses just skyrocket,” Eliason said.

But in 2011, when Medicare implemented a system that lumped payment for dialysis in with the drugs used during treatment (thus removing the financial incentive to over-prescribe), dosing of epoetin alfa plummeted.

The need for and use of expensive prescription medication is just one reason that treating end-stage renal disease is so costly. In 2018, according to the USRDS, Medicare paid $31.3 billion in fee-for-service expenditures — where the government pays providers separately for each service provided — to treat the more than 500,000 dialysis patients in the U.S. Although kidney failure patients comprise just around 1 percent Medicare’s fee-for-service population, they represent 7.2 percent of such Medicare expenditures. The high medical costs of people with kidney failure is one of the reasons that Burton suspects the insurance industry supported AB 290, since it would mean they had to pay less to dialysis centers. And of course, offloading expensive kidney disease patients onto government insurance would increase their own profit margins.

When insurers set their premiums, she said, “they’ve already factored in that they will have people with kidney failure, with cancer, with heart disease who are more expensive. If they can factor that into their premium and then get those people off of their insurance, their profits go up even more.”

But it was the use of American Kidney Fund assistance to potentially bolster the profit margins of the dialysis companies that first triggered the fight in the California legislature.

 There are currently more outpatient dialysis clinics in the United States than there are Burger King restaurants, and the prevalence of these clinics confirms to critics like Wood that dialysis is a massive and, from his perspective, inordinately profitable business. “Profiteering at the expense of patients and the public is immoral and it should be seen only for what it is — a self-serving scam,” he noted in a press release in January of last year."

“For Black and Brown Kidney Patients, Higher Hurdles to Care” by Carrie Arnold 12.16.20

"...February 2016, after dealing with persistent swelling in his feet, Zachary headed to the hospital. Tests showed he had high blood pressure and that his kidneys had failed. Zachary needed dialysis right away. He opted for a treatment called peritoneal dialysis, which uses the blood vessels in the abdomen and a cleaning fluid called dialysate. This allows Zachary to do his treatments at home every night while he sleeps, rather than going to a clinic several times each week.

DaVita provides the equipment and medical support for his dialysis.

Studies suggest that somewhere between 23 and 38 percent of people with kidney failure "crash" onto dialysis like Zachary, meaning they start it in an unplanned way, with little or no prior care from a kidney specialist. Many of these individuals are too sick to work full-time at this point. Others, like Zachary, could potentially remain employed but dialysis gets in the way. The physical labor of his construction job would dislodge his dialysis catheter, so he had to quit. Karabasz knew for years that her kidneys were failing and left her job preemptively to pursue tutoring with her husband. As it does for so many Americans, the loss of their jobs meant the loss of employer-sponsored health insurance.

Indeed, because end-stage renal disease was so often accompanied by unemployment, Congress passed a law in 1972 that made patients who also qualified for social security eligible for Medicare three months after diagnosis, even if they were under 65, the age when Medicare typically kicks in. An amendment to a later act required that everyone with end-stage renal disease use Medicare as their primary insurance 30 months after diagnosis. Given that only one-third of those on dialysis survive for five years, those first 30 months are where companies like DaVita and Fresenius earn their profits — and it’s the key window they spend millions fighting for. According to data supplied by AKF(American Kidney Fund), roughly a quarter of its insurance assistance recipients were on employer-provided or otherwise private insurance in 2019."

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Many top artists were made aware of the impact of these facts about kidney disease when beloved colleague, Sho Murase, broke her silence. She shared her story in a Nov 2020 Facebook post (text of that post is at the end of this). She was battling chronic illness that resulted kidney failure. She had been preparing to die because she could not afford life-saving medical treatments. 

Sho's life has literally been saved by friends. They refused to let her accept a terminal diagnosis based on inability to afford treatments. They cared for her, sorted out her insurance and debt options, then organized a benefit auction.

The auction was a success. The dollar amount raised was eye-popping, but also a vivid example of the financial resources required to battle chronic illness when you are underinsured. Hopefully these donations and other resources will allow Sho's health to improve. And help her get better health insurance that will cover more of her horrific expenses. 

Sho is just one example of the many people in dire need of an organ transplant. Please consider becoming an organ donor. You can learn more about kidney donations here: National Kidney Foundation (NKF) website:


Here's the message of gratitude posted after the auction by Sho herself on 12.15.20

(last day of Auction, 12.13.20) Sunday was a very special day. Seeing how much support and love I was receiving, was very emotional. I am very grateful.

I felt the positive energy of every person who was there, sharing, bidding, donating hard worked art. I felt the art community all united.

With the quarantine, the isolation of this past year, and my personal isolation from health recovery, I felt I was missing that sense of community.

No friends gatherings, no in person events (We used to organize them at our local venue frequently), and of course, no physical conventions.

When our group at Maverix Studios, split, Conventions became a big part of my life, being the place where I could see in person a lot of you.

Back in 2018 I came with terms that my life was going to end, and I was prepared to going out quietly.

But my life did not end. I am still alive. More than 2000 persons signed for this event. More than 340 art pieces were donated.

Just like I pulled through my worst times, because my family of friends, and specially Sergio Paez and Felipe Smith were trying soo hard to keep me alive, on Sunday I felt like I will get better and keep fighting thanks to you.

Sergio whom organized this event did not know but Sunday was also my lost brother’s birthday.

Sunday was bittersweet to me. Sunday reminded me that he never had this kind of support. He died alone.I was not there for him. I tried my best to help him while I was battling for my life here, but I was too far to offer real comfort.

Sunday reminded me of how important having a community was. Family does not mean necessarily connected by blood. It means caring for each other. Check on each other. Thinking of others.

You are all my art community family.

If my brother had a tiny bit of all this love and support I received his life might have had a different end. Everyone deserves care and love. We are busy, life happens and we keep postponing talking or checking in our loved ones. I was the same way myself.

This is a little reminder, to everyone, to remember to contact that loved person whom is in the back of your head.

Life happens and we are all busy...butit may be too late to help him or her later.I was talking to my good friend Robert Valley. He said something very insightful.

He said “I went to funerals lately. I see a lot of people gathered, was nice to see them all...but the person who would have loved to see them, was already dead. You, in a way, were able to see everyone while you are still alive”

And he was right. So many of you whom I have not seen in months, years, decades, were all gathered in the site.

Every time I saw the leader board I would see a name pop up. And it would tear me up remembering the person.

There are those whom only met me through this event, but out of the kindness of their hearts, wanted to help.

They told me that they had family or them themselves, went through similar situation. They felt they received help from others themselves and wanted to help in turn.

Your love and support gives me the strength to keep fighting through any rocks life throws at me. I need to get back to be able to work.

I m fighting to be included back in this wonderful art community, as a working part of it.A part of a community that proved that despite of all quarantine and isolation, still remains united. Just witnessing that was a huge energizing treat.

I wanted to thank again every single one of you and specially SergioPaez and his beautiful wife @DaraPaez whom are the team behind this event.

They did all the heavy lifting and organization with the help of many friends, like Wahab Algarmi whom was the social media guru for this event & Maik Judge&  Vaughn Ross who helped there were they could.

Everyone who donated their time and amazing work. You who bid, shared.

Thank you again to all of you.

I have no idea what I have done to deserve all this love and support. Must have been something I did in my past life. Lol

I am so grateful for every one of you being in my life.

There is this book I wanted to draw all my life.

I feel like I spent my whole career preparing to draw it. When I was almost ready to start, my life paused.

I was resigned to give up. It is still undone.

Hope I will be able to draw it, with all your help.


Cash donations to Sho can be sent via this PayPal link:

This post below from the HealShoMurase Facebook page was shared on 12.13.20

"Thanks to everyone who donated their time, money and effort. We managed to raise over $120,000 for Sho’s ongoing health battle!

We couldn’t have done it without you!

If you didn’t get the chance to bid, but would still like to donate, you can do so (here) :"

Sho's 11.18.20 Facebook post that explained her absence and launched the outreach for the auction..

"Many of you have been asking me why my shop has been closed for the last two years.

Some of you may have notice I was missing from the convention circuit before Quarantine hit.

Two years ago I was told by a dozen doctors that I was a very difficult case and I was not going to make it past a few weeks.

My kidneys were failing. My heart was very weak. I had congestive heart failure. Organs were shutting off...My weight was under 80 pounds. I was anemic, so weak I could not walk. My lungs & the area around my heart were filled with liters of fluid. I was drowning inside and could not sleep for weeks. All I was left with was a huge pre medi-cal approval hospital bill.

I thought my time had come...

What happened after is a miracle of friendship.

What was meant to be one final reunion with my best friends to thank them for their friendship and to get one final hug, became a quest to save my life.

My good soul brother super awesome movie director and owner, Sergio Paez & the fantastic super talented Ghost Rider Robbie Reyes creator Felipe Smith came together & they decided they were not going to let me die.

They temporarily set aside their very successful careers to become caregivers and make shift nurses. They cared for me 24/7. They were there every night of the many months I spent at the hospital. They washed my hair when I could not. They carried me when I could not walk.

Many of you may know I have no family here. My mother died a very tragic death, shortly before I was admitted in the hospital. My brother left this world while I was fighting for my life. I know little of my father. My sister is in Japan but she has an equally challenging immunological illness after recovering from a massive stroke. She is also fighting for her life.

My family of friends and the awesome crew at UCSF hospital saved my life.

Their dialysis team and their ER team knew me by name by my fifth visit.

There are some fantastic vocational nurses at UCSF whom really helped me through months of surgeries and tests.

At the moment I am a home hemodialysis patient with kidney failure. I am connected to a machine every other day for hours, to live. I am still fighting my way to recovery.

I am not yet tested for possible transplant. I was too weak and needed to get stronger. Then...Covid happened and everything slowed. I may need a donor if I am tested positive for transplant.

Did you know you only need one kidney to live a healthy life? Most of us came with a pair. There are too many of us with kidney failure and not enough donors. If you are curious about living kidney donations you can check the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) website:

Finding a selfless angel who wants to donate a kidney for nothing in return but the gratification of saving someone’s life is difficult. There are 113,000+ people on the waiting list for a kidney donor. Every ten minutes one more person is added to the list.

I am trying to get an experimental alternative treatment to heal my kidneys before opting for kidney transplant testing but it is very expensive, no insurance covers them. I do not know how many months of treatment I may need for it to work.

Super talents Sergio, Felipe, Mike Judge (Not that MJ. The other MJ along with my awesome huge list of fantastic animation and comics community of friends, have been helping me survive for the past two years as I struggled to live.

I am blessed with a huge non blood related family of friends & they happen to be all extremely talented.

I am immensely grateful for everyone’s support. This gratitude helped me immensely to go through this journey.

You are part of my family of friends. You have been there supporting my work despite of the repetitive vault postings and the absence of new art for the last two years.

Now, my good friends are now coming together to organize a benefit show.

If you would like to donate cash, you can donate here:

The art community is comprised of some of the best people on earth and I am very blessed to have been a part of it...hopefully with your help I will be able to get back in it."


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