Dialysis machines
Dialysis machines at a hospital. Photo by Irvin Calicut via Wikimedia Commons

By Dawn Wildman

There are residents living in our community who struggle daily to ensure they can pay for the treatment they need to stay alive. Patients who have End Stage Renal Disease, or ESRD, need costly dialysis treatment and often rely on charitable assistance programs to help cover the costs.

We should not be discouraging charitable assistance programs from helping patients. The result of legislation pending at the state Legislature would force taxpayers to cover more costs and that is not the right approach.

Senate Bill 1156 would severely restrict the ability of charitable assistance programs to provide financial assistance to patients suffering from ESRD. These programs provide patients with essential financial assistance used to cover the costs of their insurance premiums and life-sustaining dialysis treatment. They alleviate dialysis patients’ financial burdens and allow them to access the affordable, high-quality treatment options available in the private market.

Dialysis treatment is a necessary and exhausting process that is essential for those suffering from ESRD. Patients are often in treatment up to 5 days a week for four or more hours per day. Such an intense, time-consuming treatment makes it hard for patients to maintain employment and is also extremely expensive. Patients aren’t the only ones who recognize the enormous amounts of time and money spent on dialysis treatment. For private health insurance companies, this dialysis treatment and the patients receiving it represent a loss to profits and their bottom line.

SB 1156 is an attempt to deny patients the ability to use charitable assistance to pay their premiums, effectively pushing them off private insurance and onto government health plans. This tactic places the burden squarely on taxpayers’ shoulders. It completely disregards patient health and continuation of care that may be affected by loss of coverage and treatment gaps. In fact, legislation like SB 1156 has been proposed across the country, with a federal court striking down a previously proposed government rule to block charitable assistance programs because it would cause “irreparable harm” to patients.

If passed, SB 1156 would cause irreparable harm, forcing patients suffering from ESRD to make life-threatening decisions. Patients would have to find new ways of paying for their medical care, with many finding themselves unable to pay and continue their dialysis treatment. Others would be forced onto government-funded health care plans, creating greater financial burdens for programs already facing tremendous fiscal challenges. As health care costs continue to consume more of federal and state budgets each year, it’s increasingly important to find ways to reduce government costs while ensuring patients have access to the quality care they need. The answer to this dilemma is charitable assistance programs -– the same programs that SB 1156 threatens.

With SB 1156, the bottom line is that patients and taxpayers are being forgotten. It would force patients to make life-altering decisions in regards to their health care, forcing them off of private insurance and on to government funded programs and shifting the costs directly to the public sector and taxpayers.

I urge our state lawmakers to take into account the negative effects this bill would have on community health and the financial impact it would have on millions of Californians. If the Legislature does not stop SB 1156, we will all pay the price, and some could pay with their lives.

Dawn Wildman is director of the California-based Coalition for Policy Reform.