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

California is supposed to be a land where people care about others.

But a new bill in the Legislature is threatening to cut off a charitable assistance program that helps low-income Californians like me pay for life-saving kidney dialysis. All so insurance companies can make an extra buck.

I used to work as a forklift driver in a warehouse, and I had private insurance through my employer. But I have not been able to work for several years because my failed kidneys have left me very ill and in need of three-times weekly dialysis.

Some days I can barely walk a half block.

I depend on charitable assistance for shelter, food, transportation to my medical appointments and medical expenses.

Assembly Bill 290 will take away a key part of that assistance: the American Kidney Fund’s charitable premium assistance that helps me pay for my dialysis.

The AKF is an independent, non-profit charitable organization which helps pay health insurance premiums for dialysis patients enrolled in state, federal and commercial health insurance plans.  This bill would place new unnecessary regulations in place that the AKF says would simply force them to end their program that helps nearly 4,000 people in California stay alive.

Just like that.

Francisco Enriquez

Many of us on this assistance are minorities, all of us are low-income, and we are often brushed aside by society.

If AKF is forced to halt charitable premium assistance in California, thousands of dialysis patients will lose their private insurance coverage because they won’t be able to afford it, and they will be forced onto government programs.

Those patients will likely end up paying more for their own care, since Medicare only covers 80 percent of treatment costs.

That is exactly what insurance companies want. They want to dump patients like me right when we need the insurance the most.

To add insult to injury, AB 290 is written so insurance companies can also slash the amounts they reimburse dialysis clinics for the care of patients like me who receive charitable assistance. Because of the lower reimbursements, clinics could be forced to close and even fewer people will have access to the treatment they need.

Today fewer clinics are being opened than are needed. If the clinic where I go closed its doors, I would be hard-pressed to find the transportation to get to a different clinic farther away. I’d end up missing treatments which is dangerous for my health. Just one missed treatment increases the risk of mortality by 30%.

I’m not the only one. If California can’t meet future demand for dialysis treatment facilities, patients will end up in hospital emergency rooms at a much higher cost. This will raise health care and taxpayer costs for all Californians.

If AB 290 passes, too many vulnerable dialysis patients will be left without access to dialysis care. I would be one of them.

I’m begging the legislature to reject insurance company greed and reject AB 290.

Francisco Enriquez is a dialysis patient and resident of San Diego.