Patients with ESRD consume a vastly disproportionate amount of financial and human resources. Approximately 0.03% of the US population began renal replacement therapy in 2004, an adjusted incidence rate of 339 per million. Declining incidence rates were observed for most primary causes of ESRD and in most major demographic categories; the worry is that rates of diabetic ESRD continue to rise in younger black adults. Although diabetes and hypertension remain the most commonly reported cause of ESRD, rates of end-stage atherosclerotic renovascular disease seem to be on the rise in older patients. Although clinical care indicators, such as the proportion of hemodialysis patients using fistulas, continue to improve gradually, the proportion of patients overshooting target hemoglobin levels under epoetin therapy may be a source of concern. Survival probabilities have improved steadily in the US ESRD population since the late 1980s, which is remarkable when one considers the ever-expanding burden of comorbidity in incident patients. However, although first-year dialysis mortality rates have clearly improved since 1987, meaningful improvements do not seem to have accrued since 1993, in contrast to steady annual improvements in years 2 through 5. Although most of these findings are grounds for cautious optimism, the same cannot be said for issues of cost; reflecting the growth in the size of the ESRD population, associated costs grew by 57% between 1999 and 2004 and now account for 6.7% of total Medicare expenditures.