California S.B. 1156 is disastrous for chronic disease patients

4.9.18

New legislation has been introduced in California that, if passed, will pose disastrous consequences for hundreds and possibly thousands of lower-income chronic disease patients.

Introduced by Senator Connie Leyva and backed by the insurance lobby, Senate Bill 1156 is a thinly veiled attempt by insurers to force patients who rely on charitable financial assistance off of their health plans.

Chronic disease patients often have expensive conditions that require consistent, lifesaving medical treatment to manage their disease. Unfortunately, paying for insurance premiums and cost-sharing requirements can quickly become a financial burden patients can’t afford.

To ensure patients don’t have to choose between paying for health care coverage and paying for food or rent, many nonprofit organizations offer financial support – at no cost to the public – for patients who need help paying their monthly insurance premiums or copays. Organizations like the American Kidney Fund and Patient Services Inc. are just two of the nonprofit entities who provide a critical safety net for patients with various chronic conditions on both private and public health plans.

While S.B. 1156, as written, currently would force kidney dialysis patients off of private health plans and onto public programs instead, we know this is a slippery slope. As they did with patients who have pre-existing conditions prior to the Affordable Care Act, large, profit-hungry insurers will expand this discrimination to target others with chronic health conditions, whether diabetes, MS, rheumatoid arthritis or others.

Californian Adam Meyer battles Gaucher’s disease, a rare genetic disorder that requires regular enzyme replacement injections. Meyer relies on charitable financial assistance from Patient Services Inc. and Genzyme to help afford his lifesaving treatment.

“The medication I need to stay alive costs more than $1 million a year – over $100,000 for each dose. PSI helps with my monthly insurance premium. Genzyme’s patient assistance program helps with out-of-pocket costs,” Meyer previously told the Chronic Disease Coalition.

If passed, S.B. 1156 will limit patients, like Meyer, from accessing lifesaving financial assistance. The bill  would steer patients to public plans like Medicare or Medi-Cal, even if those plans don’t meet all of their needs, and even if they have been paying for their private coverage.

If passed, California S.B. 1156 would set a dangerous precedent that allows insurers to dictate the type of health plan a patient with a chronic condition can have. We must challenge this blatant infringement of patient rights, and work to ensure patients in California have access to charitable financial assistance and the health plan that works for them.