Coalition of patients, doctors, dialysis caregivers and others launch patient-focused advertising campaign urging legislators to reject AB 290 (Wood).

August 12, 2019

Bill will increase insurance company profits at the expense of low-income, minority dialysis patients.

SACRAMENTO – The Dialysis is Life Support coalition, a coalition of dialysis patients, doctors, hospitals, dialysis caregivers, veterans groups, community groups and business groups, today launched a statewide television, radio and digital advertising campaign urging legislators to reject Assembly Bill 290 (Wood). AB 290 ends the nonprofit American Kidney Fund’s (AKF) medical financial assistance program and puts thousands of low-income dialysis patients in California at financial and medical risk.

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). In an effort to abide by its charter and to protect the program nationwide, AKF would be left with no other choice but to cease its operations in California, leaving the 3,700 patients they currently assist without other options. According to AKF, “If enacted, AB 290 will quickly force us to stop helping low-income dialysis and transplant patients in California, no matter what kind of insurance they have—Medicare or private.”

The California Legislature has no backup plan for these patients, many of whom may lose their insurance altogether, or will have to rely on hospital emergency rooms to get the treatment they need to stay alive.

The Dialysis is Life Support campaign features testimonials from two patients, Virginia Abitia and Johnny Cooks, who receive help from AKF. Their stories represent that of 3,700 low-income patients who rely on help from AKF to pay for their life-saving medical care.

“When I first went to the doctor, he had mentioned that sooner than later, I would be on dialysis,” says Monterey Park dialysis patient Virginia Abitia. “Of course, I was like, in tears . . .  this is not possible. Obviously, I have to go on disability. I really depend on the American Kidney Fund to basically pay for my insurance. If they pass AB 290, what they’re basically doing is just . . . killing me slowly. If they take this away, I don’t think I would be alive.”

 “First day I found out I had kidney failure was in April of 2010,” says dialysis patient Johnny Cooks from San Mateo. “I had just lost my job, so I ended up being homeless. Now I was going to start dialysis. The American Kidney Fund is real important for people that are on dialysis. I receive about 300 dollars a month. If they cut this program off, dialysis patients like me will suffer the consequences. This is really life or death.”

Without AKF’s medical financial assistance, the current health care coverage for thousands of dialysis patients may be at risk, putting their lives in danger by jeopardizing their ability to get regular dialysis treatments or any of the other health care they need.

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 percent.

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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