All dialysis patients should have access to care

A nurse in a hospital renal unit starts dialysis treatment on a patient. (Photo: Tyler Olson)

Senate Bill 1156 on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk could potentially disrupt life-saving treatments for thousands of kidney patients like me and put the future of our care – and even our lives – at risk.

Gov. Brown should veto SB 1156 and send a clear message that all dialysis patients should have access to the care we need, even if we need charitable help to cover our insurance costs.

Medi-Cal and Medicare only cover 80 percent of my treatment costs. The rest is picked up by my private insurance.

I first started having problems with my kidneys when I was 11-years-old.  By the time I was 20, I was on dialysis. I was able to keep my kidneys for a while, but as often happens with kidney disease, the illness eventually took over. Almost 40 years and three kidney transplants later, I have beaten the odds by staying alive, but only because of the dialysis treatment I receive every day.

Though it wasn’t easy, I was able to keep working full-time despite my illness and need for dialysis treatments three days a week. I worked for 20 years making furniture, and for the last 15 years with Union Pacific in San Leandro. Both jobs came with health insurance that allowed me to continue to receive the treatments I need to survive.

Last year, I finally got too sick to work. I was forced to leave my full-time job, and the health insurance that came with it. But I desperately needed to keep my insurance to cover the cost of my life-saving treatments.

Sure, I qualified for public insurance – Medi-Cal and Medicare – but they only cover 80 percent of my treatment costs. The rest is picked up by my private insurance.

Luckily for me, the American Kidney Foundation came to my aid. AKF agreed to pay the cost of my COBRA premium, which covers thousands of dollars in medical bills that public insurance doesn’t cover. Without help from AKF, I could not afford the more than $900 per month to cover my life-saving treatments.

If SB 1156 becomes law, it would allow insurance companies to deny people like me who need help to pay for their insurance premiums. SB 1156 would literally put my life at risk simply because I cannot afford to pay for insurance without charitable assistance.

In researching SB 1156, I learned that it not only will disrupt my coverage, but it could fracture the safety net of community dialysis clinics that more than 66,000 Californians rely on to live. That’s because SB 1156 allows insurance companies to reduce what they pay clinics for treatments down to the government Medicare rate – which barely covers the cost of care. Even one or two privately-insured patients can mean the difference between dialysis clinics operating in the red or black.

Gov. Brown should reject this bill and send a message that California will not slam the door on patients who need life-saving treatments just because we cannot afford to pay for insurance. The governor should put the needs of patients over insurance company profits and veto SB 1156.

Ed’s Note: Domingos Dias is a dialysis patient in San Leandro.




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