By Megan Hashbarger, Director of Congressional and State Relations, Dialysis Patient Citizens
Dialysis Patients Citizen’s (DPC) mission is to improve dialysis citizens’ quality of life. As a result, we have played an important role in increasing patient access to: health insurance coverage, care coordination, medications and innovative therapies. While we work hard to improve public policies for patients, sometimes we are put on defense to protect our previous hard-fought victories.
One of the most important tools for protecting patient choice and access to insurance coverage is the ability of charities to provide financial assistance in helping dialysis patients purchase insurance coverage. The American Kidney Fund helps nearly one in four of our members with their health care expenses. Unfortunately, legislation was introduced in California (S.B. 1156) last year, which threatened patients’ ability to use charitable assistance, but later was changed to cut the reimbursement rates to dialysis providers. Either version of this bill would have likely led to facility closures and countless patients scrambling to find life-saving care, even if they did not receive charitable assistance themselves. DPC CEO Hrant Jamgochian and DPC Board Member Danny Iniguez held over 40 meetings with California state legislators during several trips to Sacramento. They were able to raise patient concerns with this flawed legislation, ultimately leading to the Governor’s veto of the bill. However, there is now a new Governor and several new state legislators who will need to be educated about the importance of charitable assistance.
Dialysis funding also remains critical to ensuring that patients receive high-quality care. However, voters in California were recently asked to consider a flawed ballot initiative (Proposition 8) that would have limited dialysis reimbursement. Many of the services that are required for the delivery of care were not included in the calculation advanced by this initiative, which could have required virtually all California facilities to dialyze patients at a loss. The good news is that California voters voted down this measure by over 60 percent, avoiding a potentially disastrous situation that would have led to even more facility closures. Both S.B. 1156 and Proposition 8 were being promoted by the Service Employees International Union, a powerful labor union that wants to unionize the employees at dialysis facilities. While DPC has never gotten involved in labor/management issues, we had to speak out in both instances to ensure that patients did not get caught in the middle.
In 2019, we expect these challenges to resurface and potentially spread to other states. DPC will be working hard to grow our grassroots advocacy network, in order to help educate state legislators over the potential “collateral damage” that such legislation could cause to dialysis patients. As a result, we will be asking for your help in contacting your state and local officials to ensure that before they vote on any legislation, they make certain it passes the critical test of “do no harm.” No one knows the challenges that dialysis patients face better than you, so we are counting on your help to protect patient care.