Patients tell insurers and California Assembly: Hands off my insurance!
Dozens of dialysis and transplant patients, renal workers and others came together at the California State Capitol in California this week to send a simple, clear message to lawmakers: Hands off my insurance.
They were protesting California Senate Bill 1156, which is sponsored by Blue Shield of California and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). It is backed by every major insurer in California, with good reason: The bill gives these payers a back-door way to drop low-income dialysis and kidney transplant patients from their plans.
SB 1156 threatens the health care coverage of thousands of Californians living with end-stage renal disease (ESRD), or kidney failure. It targets patients who need charitable assistance to pay their health insurance premiums, erecting barriers that will make it difficult, if not impossible, for independent nonprofits like the American Kidney Fund (AKF) to help them. Without help from AKF, patients will not be able to afford their health insurance premiums, and insurers will then be able to drop them for non-payment.
“SB 1156 will make it difficult, if not impossible, for us to help patients with their insurance,” Mike Spigler, AKF vice president of patient services and kidney disease education, told the crowd. “That’s a disaster for patients who have nowhere else to turn when their family finances crash and burn after their diagnosis.”
The bill gives insurers up to 90 days to determine whether they will allow AKF to pay health insurance premiums for any given patient. They require approval BEFORE AKF can help a patient, and patients have no recourse if they are denied.
“Many patients come to us in an emergency situation,” Spigler continued. “Their insurance is in danger of being cancelled because they have lost their income and can’t afford it. They don’t have the luxury of waiting for their insurer’s approval to pay their premium with charitable help. They can’t delay dialysis for 90 days – they would surely die within that period.”
Several patients shared their stories of living with kidney failure and depending on AKF for financial assistance.
Janet de Wald is 76 and lives on a fixed income. AKF pays for her Medigap supplemental insurance plan.
“I will be on dialysis the rest of my life, and without the supplemental coverage paid by the grant from the AKF, I would not have enough money to pay my share of cost for dialysis and would be in danger of being denied these lifesaving treatments,” she said. “As a former SEIU member, I am shocked that my former colleagues would support legislation that would deny patients like me from using charitable assistance to pay for the dialysis we need to survive.”
Phillip Silva was on dialysis for eight years, and AKF paid his premiums the whole time. He recently received a kidney transplant and AKF is continuing its assistance as he adjusts to life post-transplant and looks for a job.
“Without the assistance from AKF, the picture for my family would have been very different,” he said. “I am telling everyone I know to contact their legislators and tell them to vote NO on this terrible bill.”
SB 1156 will be heard by the California Assembly Health Committee on June 26. California residents may urge their representatives to vote against this bill using AKF’s Action Alert.