Dialysis Patients, Chronic Disease Representatives, Renal Workers and Others Urge Assembly Health to Oppose SB 1156 (Leyva)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (June 11, 2018) – Opponents of Senate Bill 1156 (Leyva) rallied outside the State Capitol today to urge the California Assembly Health Committee to protect dialysis and transplant patients from an insurer-backed bill that gives the insurance industry a backdoor way to drop low-income dialysis and transplant patients from their health insurance rolls.

The bill, which is opposed by a diverse range of chronic disease advocates, consumer groups and healthcare associations, has received virtually no media attention in California even though it 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 would cause profound harm to many of the nearly 67,000 Californians who depend on dialysis to stay alive,” said Holly Bode, vice president of government affairs for the American Kidney Fund. “The American Kidney Fund provides a charitable safety net to nearly 4,000 California dialysis and transplant patients who would otherwise be unable to afford their health care coverage. SB 1156 would take the option of charitable premium assistance away from the patients who need it most.”

A diagnosis of kidney failure often comes without warning. Many patients need to stop working when they begin dialysis; in fact, more than 75 percent of people with kidney failure are not able to work because staying alive is more than a full-time job. Comprehensive health coverage is imperative: They need dialysis to survive, and they depend on a team of specialists to help manage the many side effects of kidney failure. AKF helps low-income kidney patients by paying the premiums for any type of insurance the patient has chosen, including Medicare Part B, Medigap, COBRA, employer plans and exchange plans, in support of federal law that says kidney failure patients have the right to choose between private and public plans.

Janet de Wald, a dialysis patient from Guerneville, has been on dialysis since February 2014 and receives charitable assistance from AKF to pay for her supplemental insurance which pays the 20 percent that Medicare won’t cover. “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.”

The growing chorus of opposition to SB 1156 now includes the California Hospital Association, along with numerous chronic and rare disease groups and taxpayer policy watchdog organizations. The bill’s leading proponents are the health insurance industry and the SEIU, both of which have an obvious financial interest in removing expensive patients from insurance rolls.

“While SB 1156, as written, would force kidney patients off of private health plans and onto public programs, we know this is a slippery slope,” said Scott Bruun, executive director of the nonprofit Chronic Disease Coalition. “Just as they did with patients who had pre-existing conditions prior to the Affordable Care Act, large, profit-hungry insurers will expand this discrimination to target others with chronic health conditions, whether diabetes, MS, rheumatoid arthritis or others.”

AKF’s Health Insurance Premium Program (HIPP) was established under federal guidelines issued to AKF by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 1997. Under these federal guidelines, HIPP is funded primarily by dialysis providers through voluntary contributions. AKF alone determines who qualifies for assistance, based on the sole criterion of the individual’s financial need.  AKF doesn’t care which dialysis provider a patient goes to. It doesn’t matter whether a patient’s provider contributes to AKF or not—the only criteria is the patient’s financial need. AKF has in place strict safeguards that ensure patients are in the driver’s seat when it comes to making decisions about using assistance from the nonprofit to stay insured.

The bill’s proponents claim that it does not prohibit AKF from making premium payments. What they don’t acknowledge is that SB 1156 gives insurers up to 90 days to determine whether they will actually accept such a payment. The decision on whether or not to permit charitable assistance is left solely to the discretion of insurers. Patients have no right to appeal the insurer’s decision.

Many patients come to AKF in an emergency situation, when their insurance is already in danger of being cancelled because they have lost their income and cannot afford coverage. A 90-day waiting period will cause them to be dropped for non-payment, forcing them onto Medicare or Medi-Cal.

“Only people who are financially secure and have good health coverage can afford to debate third-party charitable premium assistance payments,” said Michael Spigler, AKF vice president of patient service and kidney disease education, at the rally. “This is a life-or-death matter for people who are facing serious health conditions and can’t get by without health coverage. Patients are not pawns, and we can’t let them become collateral damage in disputes between insurers, providers and unions.”

“Insurance can’t be just for the healthy. Our health care system isn’t perfect. But the solution to cost concerns should not be to hurt patients by taking away the charitable assistance they have relied upon for two decades. We urge California Assembly Members to vote no on SB 1156,” Spigler concluded.

About the American Kidney Fund

As the nation’s leading independent nonprofit working on behalf of the 30 million Americans with kidney disease, the American Kidney Fund is dedicated to ensuring that every kidney patient has access to health care, and that every person at risk for kidney disease is empowered to prevent it. AKF provides a complete spectrum of programs and services: prevention outreach, top-rated health educational resources, and direct financial assistance enabling 1 in 5 U.S. dialysis patients to access lifesaving medical care, including dialysis and transplantation. AKF holds the highest ratings from the nation’s charity watchdog groups, including Charity Navigator, which includes AKF on its “top 10” list of nonprofits with the longest track records of outstanding stewardship of the donated dollar, and GuideStar, which has awarded AKF its Platinum Seal of Transparency.