The Atlantic takes a look at the high cost of being sick

AKF staff  |  Posted
Husband and wife calculating medical bills

The Atlantic magazine, long known for its “relentless pursuit of the ideas that matter and the stories that captivate,” published an in-depth look at the financial toll that illnesses—including chronic illnesses like kidney disease—take on patients.

In her article “Even the Insured Often Can’t Afford Their Medical Bills,” reporter Helaine Olen confirms what we hear again and again from the patients we assist: The financial consequences of being sick can be overwhelming.

And families that experience an illness are often hit by a double whammy—they lose income at the same time their financial needs grow, often cutting back on work hours or leaving work altogether, either voluntarily or not.

Research has shown that 80 percent of working-age dialysis patients cannot work. For many of them, the cost of their health insurance premiums is one of the largest line items in their expenses—essential to receiving lifesaving dialysis and other medical treatment, but crowding out other fundamentals such as food and housing. The Atlantic interviewed one of the patients AKF has assisted, Lori Noyes of Upland, California.

Noyes’ financial life all but collapsed when a donated kidney she received in childhood failed in early 2014. Her out-of-pocket cost for prescription co-pays was running about $200 a month. Every medical appointment resulted in more bills. “Each little doctor would take a swipe at you,” she told me. Credit-card bills mounted.

Noyes, too, found herself struggling to navigate the charities that could potentially help. When she suffered vision loss following her kidney transplant and could no longer drive, it wasn’t anyone at a medical office who informed her of the Service Center for Independent Life, a Claremont, California based organization that helps people with disabilities with everything from transportation to employment assistance. A sympathetic Uber driver told her about the program. Finally, a financial counselor at the DaVita kidney-care location where she received dialysis suggested she reach out to the American Kidney Fund, which offered Noyes help paying her health-insurance bill and Medicare Part D premium. (All end-stage renal-failure patients are eligible for Medicare.) “It gave me wiggle room,” she says.

The charitable premium assistance that AKF provides to low-income dialysis patients under our federally-approved program is a vital lifeline that ensures access to the care that keeps them alive. Our grants are awarded solely on the basis of financial need, and we help dialysis patients pay for all types of insurance: Medicare and Medigap, and private commercial plans including employer group health, COBRA and qualified health plans in the marketplace exchanges. The majority of the patients we assist, like Lori Noyes, are Medicare patients.

But over the past several years, the health insurance industry has launched increasingly aggressive attacks on our ability to assist these individuals, including those who turn to us for help with their Medigap insurance premiums.

The Atlantic article sheds some important light on how crucial charitable assistance is for people struggling with debilitating illnesses and how very high the stakes are in the policy debate going on in Washington.

The full article can be read here on The Atlantic’s website: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/06/medical-bills/530679/

If you would like to stay informed about policy issues affecting kidney patients, become a member of AKF’s Advocacy Network today.

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