Of all the terrible chronic diseases, only one ? end-stage kidney disease ? gets special treatment by the federal government. A law passed by Congress 39 years ago provides nearly free care to almost all patients whose kidneys have failed, regardless of their age or ability to pay. But the law has had unintended consequences, kidney experts say. It was meant to keep young and middle-aged people alive and productive. Instead, many of the patients who take advantage of the law are old and have other medical problems, often suffering through dialysis as a replacement for their failed kidneys but not living long because the other chronic diseases kill them. Kidney specialists are pushing doctors to be more forthright with elderly people who have other serious medical conditions, to tell the patients that even though they are entitled to dialysis, they may want to decline such treatment and enter a hospice instead. In the end, it is always the patient's choice.