For those of us who have battled with life-threatening illness, there is nothing scarier than not knowing if you be able to get the care you need to survive.
A new bill in Sacramento would put dialysis patients like me at risk of being locked out of our healthcare systems, and give insurance companies new power to deny life-saving dialysis to low-income kidney patients. If SB 1156 had been law when I needed my kidney transplant, I might not be alive today.
I was diagnosed with lupus in 2008. My life became a constant series of visits with various doctors and specialists. Lupus turns your body’s immune system against you, attacking your internal organs. By the time I reached my early 20s, the years of fighting with the disease had taken its toll.
My kidneys were failing, and doctors in my town were losing their capacity to treat me. Luckily, I had good, private health insurance through my employer. I was initially hospitalized in Merced then eventually transferred to Stanford, where some of the best kidney specialists in the country treated my illness. I had multiple kidney biopsies and two rounds of chemotherapy, but my kidneys continued to fail.
Through it all, I continued to work. As a single mother, I not only needed the income, but I also needed the insurance coverage my employer provided. Before 2014, health insurance companies still had the power to deny coverage to individuals like me with expensive pre-existing conditions.
I worked until July 21, 2015 – the day before I received a peritoneal catheter. I planned to continue working after I recuperated from surgery, but I was so ill that I decided it was best both for my employer and my health to stop working.
But leaving my job meant having to worry about healthcare. I applied for disability, and began receiving SSI. But I was terrified of moving from private to public insurance. My kidneys were failing, and my need for a transplant was growing. I faced the possibility of having to completely change the team of specialists I was seeing.
Sadly, not all insurance is created equal. As a private insurance patient, I could get the appointments and treatments I needed to survive. But with just MediCal and Medicare, I was faced with waiting weeks – sometime months – to see a new team of specialists for the care I needed.
Keeping my employer’s insurance under COBRA cost $600 each month, and I wasn’t going to be able to pay. Luckily, I got a helping hand. The American Kidney Fund assisted me with monthly premiums and I was able to continue seeing all my providers.
Because of my private insurance, I was placed on two kidney transplant waiting lists. Through BlueShield, multiple people were tested for compatibility. With their help, I was able to continue my care. In February 2017, I finally received the life-saving kidney transplant I had been waiting for.
If SB 1156 passes, it will allow insurance companies to deny care for patients like me who are dependent on charitable assistance to cover health-insurance premiums. The bill lets insurance companies discriminate against patients they know might represent a greater financial risk. This would create two different health-care systems – one high-quality system for wealthy patients and another for lower-income people like me who would be punished simply because they cannot afford private insurance on their own.
Lawmakers should be making it easier for sick people to get healthcare, regardless of their ability to pay. SB 1156 takes our state in the wrong direction, giving private insurance companies the power to treat lower-income patients as second-class citizens, and putting thousands of lives at risk.
Teresa Arroyo is a resident of Los Banos. She wrote this for the Merced Sun-Star.