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Pa. House subcommittee explores adding equity component to potential cannabis legislation

A Pennsylvania House subcommittee met Thursday to explore how potential cannabis legislation could advance equity and social justice in the face of the disproportionate impact of the war on drugs on minority communities.

“A clear priority that you heard yesterday at our subcommittee meeting deals with the issues of social equity and restorative justice, particularly for those communities that were most disadvantaged by the criminal justice system,” said  Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), chair of the House Health Committee subcommittee on health care.  

On Friday morning, House Democrats, who hold a single-vote majority and therefore control what bills come to the floor, held their first full caucus meeting to begin discussions of what a bill aimed at legalizing marijuana might look like.

“My hope and expectation is that we will have a bill that is informed by the hearings that we’ve had in the health committee – in our subcommittee – in the coming few months,” Frankel told the Capital-Star “There may be a member or two that may have an issue with that, but I think that there is a clear, overwhelming consensus among the Democratic caucus.”

Gov. Josh Shapiro has expressed support for legalizing marijuana in Pennsylvania, and even included potential revenue from a tax on the substance in his latest budget. In the Senate, a legalization bill has been put forward by Republican Sen. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie), with a handful of Democratic sponsors. An identical bill was introduced in the House Tuesday by Democrat Rep. Amen Brown (D-Philadelphia) with all Democratic sponsors.

Pennsylvania Gov. Shapiro proposes $48 billion budget with focus on education, economy, and people

Among those who testified Thursday was Tahir Johnson, 40, a New Jersey native who was one of the first to receive a license to open a recreational cannabis dispensary in his state. Prior to legalization, Johnson had been arrested on cannabis-related charges three times.

“Seeing something that has caused harm to me and my family — to so many people I know — and to now be building a business on the back of that has been amazing,” Johnson told the Capital-Star. “Just doing something like this in my community, knowing that it’s making people proud, knowing that I’m making an example as one of the first people to get a license and be doing this is amazing.”

Johnson qualified for what’s called “social equity status” when he applied to open a dispensary in New Jersey. That status is offered to minority business owners or people who had previously been charged with cannabis-related offenses, and gives their applications priority. 

The goal of social equity status is to ensure that people and communities most impacted by the war on drugs get  ample opportunity to enter the new business sector on the ground floor. Black Americans, like Johnson, are much more likely to be arrested for cannabis-related crimes than whites, numerous studies have demonstrated.

But as Johnson and others testified, social equity programs like New Jersey’s have not always had their intended effect. Johnson said he had to jump through many hoops to attain funding, and the regulatory process for dispensaries is onerous. His license was approved two years ago, and his dispensary still hasn’t opened.

Laury Lucien, the owner of a marijuana business in Massachusetts and a law professor at Suffolk University in Boston, told the committee Pennsylvania should learn from her state’s mistakes.

While Massachusetts has a social equity program similar to New Jersey’s, many would-be business owners who qualified for it lacked the access to funding and relevant business experience when compared to venture capital investors and large corporations, many of which already operate dispensaries in states where it is legal. Moreover, many banks are hesitant to offer loans to businesses selling a product that’s still illegal federally.

And in Massachusetts, Lucien said, would-be business owners are required to have real estate for their dispensaries throughout the entire application process, which can take years.

Due largely to these hurdles, Lucien said, Massachusetts’ marijuana business is still predominantly white

She suggested not allowing any non-equity businesses to open until funding is made available for equity candidates. She also recommended laws barring the sale of social equity licenses to non-equity candidates for a period of time after the initial legalization to prevent monopolistic businesses from buying them up.

Johnson advocated for a policy implemented in New Jersey, allowing equity candidates to receive conditional licenses before meeting certain funding barriers, making it easier to find investors.

“Oftentimes, when we’re engaging in these conversations, we feel as if we’re engaging in charitable work, but this is not what we’re doing,” Lucien told the committee. “It’s reparative justice to repair the wrongs that were committed in the enforcement of these marijuana laws that disproportionately impacted certain communities and certain people”

Lawmakers on the committee expressed skepticism that any legislation could have the desired effect on ensuring equity in the cannabis industry, given the difficulties in other states.

“We’ve heard from every state, ‘don’t make the mistakes we’ve had,’ but it seems like every state makes some mistakes,” Rep. Paul Schemel (R-Franklin) told the committee. “I don’t see a way out of it.”

Schemel and other Republicans on the subcommittee also unanimously expressed concern about the public health impacts of legalizing cannabis.

Retired Judge Cheryl Lynn Allen, who is now of counsel at the Pennsylvania Family Institute, a subsidiary of the pro-life national think tank Family Research Council — deemed a “hate group” by Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-LGBTQ stances — spoke to these concerns at the committee meeting.

“Increased use of cannabis has detrimental effects, not only on our young people, but on our society as a whole,” Allen told the committee. “So why would we promote such an industry and call it social equity?”

But legalization proponents, including members of the subcommittee, disagree.

“The fact of the matter is that we have an environment where there is a vibrant, illicit marketplace,” Frankel told the committee. Not only would legalization ensure that all marijuana products are regulated, he added, but it would end the discriminatory enforcement of cannabis-related criminal penalties.

“For many of us, including on this panel, I think on a bipartisan basis, the restorative justice, social justice piece, decriminalization has been an important aspect of this conversation,” Frankel said.

The subcommittee on healthcare will meet again on April 25.

Beyoncé’s ‘Cowboy Carter’ collaborators get matching ‘Blackbiird’ tattoos

Photo: Getty Images

Several artists who collaborated with Beyoncé on her new Cowboy Carter album got matching tattoos to commemorate the achievement.

On Sunday (April 7), Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Reyna Roberts, and Tiera Kennedy, who appeared on Cowboy Carter’s “Blackbiird,” shared the way they celebrated their collab with Bey at the CMT Music Awards.

“I’m so grateful that my favorite artist in the world chose me to be a part of her project, and that is so incredible,” Roberts said on the red carpet.

The artist later revealed that she, Adell, Spencer, and Kennedy got matching “Blackbiird” tattoos.

“We all got a symbolism of our blackbird,” Roberts said.

Roberts said collaborating with fellow Black artists was “just incredible.”

“It’s just incredible,” she said. “The camaraderie and us supporting each other and congratulating each other on this big success that we could all experience together has been phenomenal.”

During pre-ceremony festivities for the CMT Music Awards, Adell said she was unsure if she would make the final cut of Cowboy Carter.

“I found out along with the rest of the world what all of this sounded like and looked like, and it was just as much as it gets for me as I know it was for everyone else,” she said.

Adell also shared that each of the collaborators’ blackbird tattoos has their own flair.

“We all did it in our own style and how we wanted to,” the artist said.

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Bally’s Chicago Casino Revenue Surged 13.2% in March to $13M

In March, Bally’s Chicago Casino achieved significant milestones with a 13.2% increase in gross gaming revenue to $13,062,666 and a record-breaking attendance of 117,870, leading to over $2.5 million in tax revenue generated.

“Our record-setting March results – with adjusted gaming revenue also up 12.7 percent over February to $11,127,674 – were driven by a strong events calendar, St. Patrick’s Day festivities and an increasing number of repeat guests,” said Mark Wong, Vice President and General Manager. “There has been a noticeable energy around our promotions and excitement about new amenities like the high-limit area that opened in March.”

Comprehensive March results for Bally’s Chicago Casino also include:

  • Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) is up 13.2% over February  $13,062,666.
  • Adjusted Gaming Revenue (AGR) increased 12.7% to $11,127,674.
  • Combined state and local tax allocations exceeded $2.5 million, up from $2.2 million in February.
  • Admissions totaled 117,870, up 11.6% over February.
  • Cumulative enrollment for the Bally’s Chicago Rewards program is up 18.1%, now totaling more than 74,000 members.

“We are proud to offer an outstanding experience to our guests in the Medinah Temple and look forward to this summer when construction will begin on our world-class entertainment complex along the Chicago River,” Wong said.  

The Bally’s Chicago team continued its community engagement efforts in March, which is recognized as Problem Gaming Awareness Month. Bally’s Chicago partnered with the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) and local behavioral health care provider Family Guidance Center of Chicago to host an onsite table and display for National Gambling Disorder Screening Day on March 12, among other initiatives. The Bally’s Chicago team also continued its volunteerism, feeding local families in partnership with St. James Cathedral and San Lucas Shelter.

Bally’s earned an A rating from the Better Business Bureau and also deepened its involvement in Chicago’s business community in March. Bally’s Chicago joined the Greater River North Business Association (GRNBA) as a platinum sponsor and is proud to have Gloria Batey, Director of Community Engagement, representing the casino on the association board of directors. The casino’s contribution to the GRNBA was used to install additional lighting downtown, increasing safety and visibility for residents and patrons. Bally’s was proud to celebrate the Black and African American women leaders honored at the Chicago Defender Women of Excellence awards ceremony.

Building on workforce development, the casino continues to overachieve on its targeted employment metrics, with a local workforce comprising 84% minorities, 52% women, 8% people with disabilities and 2% veterans – exceeding the overall goal by 25%. As a reflection of its commitment to diverse operational spending, Bally’s Chicago is planning a Diverse Vendor Fair for later this summer to meet and collaborate with the city’s talented local businesses. 

The casino will also be participating in the 7th annual Hospitality Hires Chicago job fair sponsored by the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership on April 16, showcasing its commitment to growing locally. Bally’s encourages Chicagoans to take advantage of its free casino dealer training school, obtaining new skills and an opportunity for lifelong career growth. Anyone interested in a pursuing a career with Bally’s can visit https://casinos.ballys.com/chicago.

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Spring Thing TICKET RAID at Baltimore Music Company: Win tix PLUS a Mike Mushok of STAIND signed PRS guitar

baltomusictaid

It’s a 98 Rock TICKET RAID! Join us at the Baltimore Music Company on April 25 for a chance to score tickets to 98 Rock’s SPRING THING!

The 98 Rock street team will be on sight to give away a pair of reserved seats every 15 minutes between 4:00 – 6:00 p.m.

But wait, there’s more! At the event, make sure to scan the 98 Rock Paul Reed Smith Guitar Giveaway QR Code for your chance at a PRS guitar signed by none other than MIKE MUSHOK of STAIND!

We’re excited to bring a night of rock to Baltimore with our 98 Rock Spring Thing at CFG Bank Arena on Friday April 26. Multi-platinum recording artists Staind headline a roster of that includes Seether, The Struts, Ayron Jones, and Dayseeker.

Purchase here: https://www.ticketmaster.com/event/15005F3B8FB115D9

Tickets start at just $39.50. Fans will have the opportunity to purchase a VIP ticket, which allows early entry into The Good Boy Vodka V.I.P. Experience and acoustic performances from Ayron Jones, Tim Montana and The Struts. The VIP ticket also includes best seats in the house, complimentary finger foods and full cash bar at the preshow party and a commemorative VIP laminate.

The Good Boy Vodka V.I.P. Experience includes:

  • Best Seats in the house
  • VIP Exclusive Early Entry
  • Pre-Show party
  • Mingling with 98 Rock Personalities
  • A “Whisker Bomb” hot sauce tasting created by Billy Gibbons and Tim Montana hosted by Tim Montana
  • Signing from members of Staind
  • Private VIP only acoustic performance by: The Struts, Ayron Jones, Tim Montana
  • Commemorative 98 Rock Spring Thing laminate
  • Complimentary Pre-Party hors d’oeuvres
  • Full Cash Bar

Purchase Spring Thing tickets here: https://www.ticketmaster.com/event/15005F3B8FB115D9

Upgrade to The Good Boy Vodka V.I.P. Experience: VIP Upgrade – 98 Rock Spring Thing Tickets Apr 26, 2024 Baltimore, MD | Ticketmaster

The Bands:

Staind is comprised of lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Aaron Lewis, lead guitarist Mike Mushok, bassist and backing vocalist Johnny April, and drummer Sal Giancarelli. Over their career, the band has released seven studio albums and eight Top 10 singles, selling over 15 million albums worldwide. RIAA-certified 5x platinum Break The Cycle featured the smash single, “It’s Been Awhile,” one of the most played songs in modern rock radio history, spending 20 weeks at Number 1. Staind has released their first studio album in 12 years called “Confessions of the Fallen” featuring  #1 hit at rock radio “Lowest in Me” and the sensational smash “Here and Now”.

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Since forming in Pretoria, South Africa in 1999, SEETHER has amassed a global fan base that has grown organically with the quartet’s sense of purpose and commitment spreading outwards, offering their fans around the world camaraderie, comfort and a sense of personal power. While others of their ilk faded away, SEETHER maintains a strong sense of self, ignoring trends and critics in favor of a consummate devotion to their craft. Their impressive sales and chart history includes three platinum and two gold albums, 15 #1 singles; 19 Top 5 multi-format hits, with US singles sales topping 17 million and over 1.5 billion streams world-wide across all platforms.

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The Struts first erupted onto the music scene with their behemoth anthem “Could’ve Been Me,” taking the No. 5 spot on Alternative Radio and introducing the world to their triumphant and timeless rock sound. Following their critically acclaimed debut, Everybody Wants, the British rockers set out on the road, bringing their energetic tracks alive with larger-than-life performances, making them a must-see live act. The Struts have continued to prove themselves worthy of that distinction, opening for The Rolling Stones, Guns N’ Roses, and Foo Fighters— the latter dubbed them “the best opening band we’ve ever had.”

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In 2021, as the world looked like it was burning down due to the COVID-19 pandemic and global protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd, Seattle-born rockstar Ayron Jones was achieving his dream. That’s when his song “Mercy,” from his debut major label record release, Child of the State, hit the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Rock Chart, making Jones one of the few solo Black artists to achieve the feat. Now Jones is set to release the follow-up to that LP, Chronicles of the Kid. For more information, visit ayronjonesmusic.com.

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Dayseeker embodies what a rock band can be in the 21st century. Untethered from rules and agnostic of genre confines, the Southern California quartet—Rory Rodriguez [vocals], Gino Sgambelluri [guitar], Ramone Valerio [bass], and Mike Karle [drums]—exist outside of any boundaries. As such, they seamlessly absorb culture at lightspeed, layering hypnotic hard rock and metallic catharsis above soundscapes punctuated by glistening post-pop, experimental indie, and alternative R&B. Tallying hundreds of millions of streams, selling out shows, and earning acclaim from the likes of Alternative Press and others, the band crystallized this outlier vision on their 2022 fifth full-length offering, Dark Sun [Spinefarm Records].

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Former NIH director Collins on his prostate cancer, medical research

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Over my 40 years as a physician-scientist, I’ve had the privilege of advising many sufferers dealing with severe medical diagnoses. I’ve seen them undergo the excruciating expertise of ready for the outcomes of a crucial blood check, biopsy or scan that would dramatically have an effect on their future hopes and desires.

However this time, I used to be the one mendacity within the PET scanner because it looked for potential proof of unfold of my aggressive prostate most cancers. I spent these half-hour in quiet prayer. If that most cancers had already unfold to my lymph nodes, bones, lungs or mind, it may nonetheless be handled — however it might now not be curable.

Why am I going public about this most cancers that many males are uncomfortable speaking about? As a result of I need to carry the veil and share lifesaving data, and I need all males to profit from the medical analysis to which I’ve devoted my profession and that’s now guiding my care.

5 years earlier than that fateful PET scan, my physician had famous a gradual rise in my PSA, the blood check for prostate-specific antigen. To contribute to data and obtain skilled care, I enrolled in a medical trial on the Nationwide Institutes of Well being, the company I led from 2009 by way of late 2021.

At first, there wasn’t a lot to fret about — focused biopsies recognized a slow-growing grade of prostate most cancers that doesn’t require therapy and will be tracked by way of common checkups, known as “lively surveillance.” This preliminary prognosis was not notably stunning. Prostate most cancers is probably the most generally recognized most cancers in males in the US, and about 40 p.c of males over age 65 — I’m 73 — have low-grade prostate most cancers. A lot of them by no means understand it, and only a few of them develop superior illness.

Why am I going public about this most cancers that many males are uncomfortable speaking about? As a result of I need to carry the veil and share lifesaving data.

However in my case, issues took a flip a couple of month in the past when my PSA rose sharply to 22 — regular at my age is lower than 5. An MRI scan confirmed that the tumor had considerably enlarged and may need even breached the capsule that surrounds the prostate, posing a major danger that the most cancers cells may need unfold to different components of the physique.

New biopsies taken from the mass confirmed transformation into a way more aggressive most cancers. Once I heard the prognosis was now a 9 on a cancer-grading scale that goes solely to 10, I knew that every little thing had modified.

Thus, that PET scan, which was ordered to find out if the most cancers had unfold past the prostate, carried excessive significance. Would a treatment nonetheless be potential, or wouldn’t it be time to get my affairs so as? Just a few hours later, when my docs confirmed me the scan outcomes, I felt a rush of profound reduction and gratitude. There was no detectable proof of most cancers exterior of the first tumor.

Later this month, I’ll bear a radical prostatectomy — a process that may take away my complete prostate gland. This will likely be a part of the identical NIH analysis protocol — I need as a lot data as potential to be realized from my case, to assist others sooner or later.

Whereas there are not any ensures, my docs consider I’ve a excessive chance of being cured by the surgical procedure.

My state of affairs is much better than my father’s when he was recognized with prostate most cancers 4 a long time in the past. He was about the identical age that I’m now, but it surely wasn’t potential again then to evaluate how superior the most cancers could be. He was handled with a hormonal remedy that may not have been mandatory and had a major adverse influence on his high quality of life.

Due to analysis supported by NIH, together with extremely efficient collaborations with the personal sector, prostate most cancers can now be handled with individualized precision and improved outcomes.

As in my case, high-resolution MRI scans can now be used to delineate the exact location of a tumor. When mixed with real-time ultrasound, this permits pinpoint concentrating on of the prostate biopsies. My surgeon will likely be assisted by a classy robotic named for Leonardo da Vinci that employs a much less invasive surgical strategy than earlier strategies, requiring only a few small incisions.

Advances in medical remedies have been knowledgeable by large-scale, rigorously designed trials which have assessed the dangers and advantages and had been potential due to the willingness of most cancers sufferers to enroll in such trials.

I really feel compelled to inform this story overtly. I hope it helps somebody. I don’t need to waste time.

If my most cancers recurs, the DNA evaluation that has been carried out on my tumor will information the exact alternative of therapies. As a researcher who had the privilege of main the Human Genome Mission, it’s really gratifying to see how these advances in genomics have reworked the prognosis and therapy of most cancers.

I need all males to have the identical alternative that I did. Prostate most cancers continues to be the No. 2 killer of males. I need the objectives of the Most cancers Moonshot to be met — to finish most cancers as we all know it. Early detection actually issues, and when mixed with lively surveillance can determine the dangerous cancers like mine, and depart the remaining alone. The five-year relative survival price for prostate most cancers is 97 p.c, in keeping with the American Most cancers Society, but it surely’s solely 34 p.c if the most cancers has unfold to distant areas of the physique.

However lack of expertise and confusion about one of the best strategy to prostate most cancers screening have impeded progress. At present, the U.S. Preventive Providers Activity Power recommends that each one males age 55 to 69 focus on PSA screening with their primary-care doctor, but it surely recommends in opposition to beginning PSA screening after age 70.

Different teams, just like the American Urological Affiliation, recommend that screening ought to begin earlier, particularly for males with a household historical past — like me — and for African American males, who’ve a better danger of prostate most cancers. However these suggestions will not be persistently being adopted.

Our health-care system is troubled with well being inequities. For instance, the image-guided biopsies will not be out there in every single place and to everybody. Lastly, many males are terrified of the surgical strategy to prostate most cancers due to the danger of incontinence and impotence, however advances in surgical strategies have made these outcomes significantly much less troublesome than up to now. Equally, the choice therapeutic approaches of radiation and hormonal remedy have seen vital advances.

Somewhat over a yr in the past, whereas I used to be praying for a dying good friend, I had the expertise of receiving a transparent and unmistakable message. This has virtually by no means occurred to me. It was simply this: “Don’t waste your time, chances are you’ll not have a lot left.” Gulp.

Having now acquired a prognosis of aggressive prostate most cancers and feeling grateful for all of the methods I’ve benefited from analysis advances, I really feel compelled to inform this story overtly. I hope it helps somebody. I don’t need to waste time.

Francis S. Collins served as director of the Nationwide Institutes of Well being from 2009 to 2021 and as director of the Nationwide Human Genome Analysis Institute at NIH from 1993 to 2008. He’s a physician-geneticist and leads a White Home initiative to eradicate hepatitis C in the US, whereas additionally persevering with to pursue his analysis pursuits as a distinguished NIH investigator.

Comment: Rule must change to allow dialysis as end-of-life care

By Matthew Rivara and Mackenzie Daniek / For The Herald

More than 1 in 7 American adults live with chronic kidney disease, making it one of the most common chronic disease conditions in the United States.

Further, chronic kidney disease (CKD) disproportionately affects racial and ethnic minority groups, including members of Black or African American, Asian, Latinx and Pacific Islander communities. Those with advanced kidney disease that leads to end-stage renal disease (ESRD) have only two ways of surviving: receiving regular dialysis treatments to clean the blood of waste and water — replacing the work of healthy kidneys — or receive a kidney transplant. Unfortunately, dialysis does not replace all of the kidney’s functions and not everyone qualifies for or can find a kidney for transplant.

To make matters worse, the way the Medicare system pays for end-of-life care puts patients dying from ESRD at a significant disadvantage over people who are dying from other causes. Medicare, the federal health insurance program for people 65 and or for those with certain disabilities, covers dialysis treatments for people with ESRD. Medicare also covers end-of-life hospice care through the Medicare hospice benefit program. However, with the way the reimbursements are set up, Medicare will generally not reimburse health care providers for dialysis treatments if a patient has elected to enter hospice care, as dialysis treatments are considered by Medicare to be “curative” rather than “palliative” care.

Because of this, most patients getting dialysis for ESRD must forego all dialysis treatment after entering a hospice program.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which sets the rules for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, has observed that “hospice enrollment for Medicare beneficiaries receiving maintenance dialysis for end-stage renal disease occurs less than half as often and much closer to the time of death compared to the general Medicare population.” This can result in pain and distress for these dialysis patients and their families.

This is not only harmful to patients, but studies conducted locally by non-profit organizations, including Northwest Kidney Centers and Providence Hospice of Seattle have concluded that this system that tries to save money upfront may actually cost more money down the line.

That’s because dying dialysis patients spend more time in intensive care units and emergency rooms and more time in the hospital. If they could receive palliative comfort care and hospice care while receiving dialysis treatments — even if they choose to have fewer treatments than they would to stay alive — they would be more comfortable at the end of their lives, and it would cost less.

In a pilot study, these two local organizations found that by offering end-stage kidney patients the option to receive hospice care and dialysis at the same time, this allowed them to have more control at the end of their lives in the dying process.

The lack of a smooth transition off dialysis and inadequate end-of-life support can lead to significant unmet comfort care needs, including pain, shortness of breath, itching, confusion, nausea and other symptoms. And because it may take some time to organize appropriate hospice services for an individual, stopping dialysis suddenly leads to a particularly chaotic end-of-life transition, complicating not only physical symptom management but also the emotional and spiritual distress for patients and family members at such a vulnerable time. Rather than providing comfort care for pain relief and symptom management, the denial of all dialysis services actually imposes pain and thwarts symptom management.

A well-constructed, funded and promoted federally endorsed palliative dialysis program aimed at comfort care rather than curative care could improve quality of care and reduce costs.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is working toward changing its rules to make it easier for dying dialysis patients to receive hospice care without immediately foregoing all dialysis treatments. These new rules include specifically stating that dialysis patients can get both services with a payment plan that covers the cost of hospice and dialysis care, so patients receive the best care possible, and the dialysis and hospice providers are paid for their services.

We strongly support these rule changes that would offer financial reimbursements for both hospice and dialysis care. We not only urge CMS to continue to make changes that will ultimately help dying dialysis patients and their families, but to proactively inform dialysis providers, hospice providers, physicians, patients and their families that they now have this humane end-of-life option.

Dr. Matthew Rivar is chief medical officer of Northwest Kidney Centers. Mackenzie Daniek, master of health administration, bachelor of science in nursing, RN, certified hospice and pallative nurse and administrator, is director of Providence Hospice of Snohomish County.

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