Chertow GM, Liu J, Monda KL, Gilbertson DT, Brookhart MA, Beaubrun AC, Winkelmayer WC, Pollock A, Herzog CA, Ashfaq A, Sturmer T, Rothman KJ, Bradbury BD, Collins AJ. Epoetin alfa and outcomes in dialysis amid regulatory and payment reform. J Am Soc Nephrol. 2016 Oct;27(10):3129-38. doi: 10.1681/ASN.2015111232

Erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs) are commonly used to treat anemia in patients with CKD, including those receiving dialysis, although clinical trials have identified risks associated with ESA use. We evaluated the effects of changes in dialysis payment policies and product labeling instituted in 2011 on mortality and major cardiovascular events across the United States dialysis population in an open cohort study of patients on dialysis from January 1, 2005, through December 31, 2012, with Medicare as primary payer. We compared observed rates of death and major cardiovascular events in 2011 and 2012 with expected rates calculated on the basis of rates in 2005–2010, accounting for differences in patient characteristics and influenza virulence. An abrupt decline in erythropoietin dosing and hemoglobin concentration began in late 2010. Observed rates of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, and myocardial infarction in 2011 and 2012 were consistent with expected rates. During 2012, observed rates of stroke, venous thromboembolic disease (VTE), and heart failure were lower than expected (absolute deviation from trend per 100 patient-years [95% confidence interval]: −0.24 [−0.08 to −0.37] for stroke, −2.43 [−1.35 to −3.70] for VTE, and −0.77 [−0.28 to −1.27] for heart failure), although non–ESA-related changes in practice and Medicare payment penalties for rehospitalization may have confounded the results. This initial evidence suggests that action taken to mitigate risks associated with ESA use and changes in payment policy did not result in a relative increase in death or major cardiovascular events and may reflect improvements in stroke, VTE, and heart failure.

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