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Open Access Research article

Care of undocumented-uninsured immigrants in a large urban dialysis unit

Gil Chernin*, Amir Gal-Oz, Idit F Schwartz, Moshe Shashar, Doron Schwartz and Talia Weinstein

Author Affiliations

Nephrology Department, Tel-Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv, 64239, Israel

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BMC Nephrology 2012, 13:112  doi:10.1186/1471-2369-13-112

Published: 19 September 2012

Abstract

Background

Medical, ethical and financial dilemmas may arise in treating undocumented-uninsured patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD). Hereby we describe the 10-year experience of treating undocumented-uninsured ESRD patients in a large public dialysis-unit.

Methods

We evaluated the medical files of all the chronic dialysis patients treated at the Tel-Aviv Medical Center between the years 2000–2010. Data for all immigrant patients without documentation and medical insurance were obtained. Clinical data were compared with an age-matched cohort of 77 insured dialysis patients.

Results

Fifteen undocumented-uninsured patients were treated with chronic scheduled dialysis therapy for a mean length of 2.3 years and a total of 4953 hemodialysis sessions, despite lack of reimbursement. All undocumented-uninsured patients presented initially with symptoms attributed to uremia and with stage 5 chronic kidney disease (CKD). In comparison, in the age-matched cohort, only 6 patients (8%) were initially evaluated by a nephrologist at stage 5 CKD. Levels of hemoglobin (8.5 ± 1.7 versus 10.8 ± 1.6 g/dL; p < 0.0001) and albumin (33.8 ± 4.8 versus 37.7 ± 3.9 g/L; p < 0.001) were lower in the undocumented-uninsured dialysis patients compared with the age-matched insured patients at initiation of hemodialysis therapy. These significant changes were persistent throughout the treatment period. Hemodialysis was performed in all the undocumented-uninsured patients via tunneled cuffed catheters (TCC) without higher rates of TCC-associated infections. The rate of skipped hemodialysis sessions was similar in the undocumented-uninsured and age-matched insured cohorts.

Conclusions

Undocumented-uninsured dialysis patients presented initially in the advanced stages of CKD with lower levels of hemoglobin and worse nutritional status in comparison with age-matched insured patients. The type of vascular access for hemodialysis was less than optimal with regards to current guidelines. There is a need for the national and international nephrology communities to establish a policy concerning the treatment of undocumented-uninsured patients with CKD.

Keywords:
Dialysis; ESRD; Undocumented; Uninsured; Immigrants