AB 290 (Wood) passes out of both houses of the state legislature

September 10, 2019

Poorest and most vulnerable dialysis patients in jeopardy unless Governor Newsom vetoes bill

SACRAMENTO – The Dialysis is Life Support coalition, a coalition of more than 4,000 dialysis patients, doctors, hospitals, dialysis caregivers, veterans, community and business groups, condemned passage of AB 290 (Wood) today. AB 290 is sponsored by insurance companies.

Despite claims from supporters, recent amendments to the bill do not address the fundamental problem that the bill will upend charitable premium assistance that the American Kidney Fund (AKF) provides for 3,700 vulnerable, low-income dialysis patients in California. Contrary to the claims of insurance company backers, AB 290 will not lower health care costs. In fact, nothing in the bill requires insurers to pass on any savings to consumers.

More than 4,000 California dialysis patients recently voiced their opposition to AB 290 by sending postcards and emails to their legislators, appearing in advertising, and speaking out against the bill. The Dialysis is Life Support coalition will urge a veto from Governor Newsom.

“AB 290 threatens my dialysis treatment and puts my life at risk,” said Johnny Cooks, a dialysis patient from San Mateo. “The financial help I get from the nonprofit American Kidney Fund (AKF) helps me pay for my Medicare supplemental insurance and for medical expenses and the treatments I need to stay alive. I don’t know what I’m going to do if this bill is signed by Governor Newsom. I hope he knows this bill affects real people like me. My health insurance is literally life or death to me.

“Governor Newsom can protect the most vulnerable dialysis patients among us and veto this discriminatory bill,” said Kelly Goss, California State Advocacy Manager, Dialysis Patient Citizens, a national, nonprofit dialysis patient-led advocacy group and a member of Dialysis is Life Support. “AB 290, as amended, still harms 3,700 of the poorest and sickest dialysis patients currently receiving AKF assistance, most of them minorities. But it doesn’t stop there. Over the long-term, AB 290’s rate setting provisions will limit access to dialysis care for all dialysis patients in California. We urge Governor Newsom to veto this bill.”

“Why is the legislature tossing dialysis patients like me overboard?” said Monterey Park dialysis patient Virginia Abitia. “I feel like that’s what’s happening, and patients have no lifejacket. Lawmakers are not taking into account how this bill will affect me or other dialysis patients like me who depend on the financial assistance from the American Kidney Fund. I don’t know how I’ll pay for insurance for my son and me. I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep our same doctors. I urge Governor Newsom to veto this horrible bill.”

BACKGROUND

More than 3,700 vulnerable dialysis patients in California rely on AKF’s charitable assistance grants to help pay for their health insurance – Medicare, Medigap supplemental, employer group health, COBRA, and other plans. AKF beneficiaries are largely minority (68% are African American, Latino and Asian) and all are low-income (average less than $30K annually).

Provisions in AB 290 conflict with AKF’s federal governing regulations (HHS OIG 97-1) risking AKF’s program in California and risking the lives of the 3,700 patients for whom it provides charitable premium assistance.

The California Legislature has no backup plan for these patients.

Dialysis patients must get dialysis three times a week, for three to four hours at a time, to stay alive. The process of dialysis, removing toxins and fluid build-up, is so critical that missing just one treatment increases patient risk of death by 30%.

For many dialysis patients, AKF grants pay for the supplemental policies needed to cover the 20% of health care costs Medicare does not cover. Without a supplemental policy, out-of-pocket costs for dialysis patients average $9,000[1] annually.

Insurance companies are sponsoring AB 290 as a way to boost profits. The effect will be to push patients off private insurance and on to government-funded Medicare or Medi-Cal, which may be more costly or not offer as many benefits to patients.

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