North Carolina Senate Urged to Hear House Bill 809
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
RALEIGH, NC (September 18, 2015) — Dialysis patients, kidney care professionals, patient advocates and the nonprofit American Kidney Fund (AKF) are urging the North Carolina Senate to consider House Bill 809, legislation which would remove a barrier that is making it challenging for many dialysis patients in the state to maintain health insurance coverage. HB 809 requires health insurers to continue accepting premium payments from certain charitable patient assistance entities, including AKF, on behalf of patients.
“The House of Representatives recognized the urgency of this situation and passed HB 809 in April by an overwhelming margin. I am urging the Senate to give this legislation a hearing next week,” said bill sponsor Representative Marilyn Avila (R-Wake) in an open letter to the Senate. “[Senators] have heard from hundreds of constituents on this, and now is the time to take action that will protect some of our most vulnerable North Carolinians from losing their health insurance coverage.”
AKF has been helping low-income dialysis patients in North Carolina maintain their insurance coverage for close to 20 years by providing charitable assistance for patients’ health insurance premiums. On July 1, BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina stopped accepting premium payments directly from AKF, putting more than 1,200 dialysis patients statewide in jeopardy of losing their health coverage, including Medigap, commercial policies and Marketplace exchange policies.
“Dialysis patients who are in nursing homes, or who don’t have bank accounts, or who rely on family to manage their finances, are now forced to find a way to cash a grant check from AKF and try to pay their BCBS premiums on their own,” Avila said. “For the seriously ill people AKF helps, this situation is a travesty.”
In 2014, BlueCross BlueShield of Louisiana attempted a similar unfair policy, but lawmakers in that state passed legislation nearly identical to HB 809 and it was signed into law. AKF urges the North Carolina Senate to follow suit and protect the dialysis patients of North Carolina.
“Our program helps low-income dialysis patients maintain their coverage, which helps keep the patient healthier and eliminates an enormous financial burden,” said LaVarne A. Burton, president and chief executive officer of the American Kidney Fund. “Many of our patients in North Carolina are unable to cash checks and then submit the payment to BlueCross BlueShield simply because they don’t have the resources to do so. If these payments aren’t made, the patient will lose the life-saving health coverage required to treat not only their kidney failure, but all of the other serious conditions and illnesses they so often have. This will ultimately create higher costs for the health care system, as they will be forced onto North Carolina Medicaid or will turn to hospital emergency rooms for life-saving care.”
Since BlueCross BlueShield stopped accepting AKF premium payments in July, scores of patients have expressed concern and dismay.
“I don’t have a bank account and tried to use my mom’s account to cash my first premium payment check from the American Kidney Fund, which I would then need to send off to BlueCross BlueShield. The bank wouldn’t accept this type of check, so I had to get it cashed elsewhere for a $6 fee. After paying my rent, car payment and groceries, I don’t have $6 left to spend. That $6 can get me breakfast for two days. This new system is horrible,” said one patient from Greensboro.
A patient from Charlotte went to deposit his check from AKF, without realizing he already had a negative bank account balance of over $100. The bank took $100 from the AKF check to cover the negative balance, leaving the patient without enough money to pay the full premium bill.
Another patient from Wilson said, “My three-month AKF grant check to pay for my premium was $1,434.75. My bank account is closed, so I had to get it cashed at a check cashing store and then purchase two money grams. I was charged fees totaling $160 so I no longer had enough money to fully pay my premium. My coverage will be terminated if I do not pay in full.”
Burton said these challenges are unnecessary barriers for patients. “The Senate can help these patients by taking action on this common-sense legislation. Let the American Kidney Fund continue to help patients in the same way we’ve been helping them for nearly 20 years—by sending payments directly to insurers.”
“We urge the Senate leadership to allow the bill to be heard,” Burton said. “The bill has already passed one Senate committee, without dissent, and these North Carolinians, who are in grave jeopardy, at least deserve a public vote by the full Senate.”
For more information about the American Kidney Fund, visit www.kidneyfund.org.