State must keep financial assistance for low-income California dialysis patients

July 9, 2019

Contra Costa Herald

By Joel Levin

I am a local public schoolteacher working with special education students from elementary age through young adults, and I am a dialysis patient who has suffered kidney disease for decades.

I am a local public schoolteacher working with special education students from elementary age through young adults, and I am a dialysis patient who has suffered kidney disease for decades.

I’ve dedicated my career to helping those less fortunate in need. That’s why I’m disappointed that insurance companies are behind legislation that would cut off the charitable financial assistance I need to pay for the dialysis that keeps me alive.

Legislators will soon be voting on Assembly Bill 290, which would eliminate financial assistance that the non-profit American Kidney Fund provides charitably to more than 3,700 qualifying California dialysis patients like me.

AB 290 requires AKF to disclose confidential patient information in violation of the federal regulations governing the program. Because of these unreasonable requirements, AB 290 would force AKF to stop helping California patients altogether.

The losers are patients like me who depend on the financial assistance AKF provides to pay for the dialysis that we need to stay alive. The winners are insurance companies whose profits would go up if it passes.

Even as a kidney patient who must undergo the rigorous dialysis treatment process to stay alive, I feel like one of the fortunate ones. Most people on dialysis can’t work because of the exhausting process of dialysis. Thankfully I can continue working as a teacher while still receiving this time-consuming treatment three times a week for three to four hours at a time, after my workday.

It is not easy, of course. And for dialysis patients who require between 9-12 hours a week of dialysis treatments, our health care coverage is expensive. Although I’m on Medicare, it only covers 80 percent of my health care costs and Medicare also requires monthly insurance premiums. I also have copays for doctor visits and copays for my numerous medications because of my kidney disease.

On top of that, I must get an additional insurance policy, with additional monthly premiums, to cover the 20 percent “gap” that isn’t paid for by Medicare.

As a public schoolteacher, I’m certainly not rich. I have a finite amount of funds. Without the AKF’s assistance program, I’m not sure how I’d be able to afford these payments.

Only a small number of Californians on dialysis, about 5 percent, use financial assistance from a third-party, non-profit charitable organization like the American Kidney Fund to help pay their health insurance premiums. AKF has made premium assistance available for more than 20 years.

I’m extremely thankful they’re in existence and grateful for the help they provide me. For me, the program offers peace of mind that I can pay my expenses and receive the healthcare that I need. I can’t even imagine what would happen to dialysis patients who can’t work. How will they survive?

At its core, AB 290 is about increasing insurance company profits.

Lawmakers who are aligning with insurance companies and supporting the measure are not seeing how it would impact the patients in the long run.

I urge legislators to reject this insurance company scheme and vote no on AB 290.

Joel Levin is a dialysis patient and resident of Danville.

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