Guest opinion: Don’t restrict access to charitable assistance for healthcare

In the past 10 years, there has been endless debate about healthcare policy.

Much of the attention has been focused on the single payer vs free market debate. I want to shed some light on another issue that is never talked about but that is affecting thousands of patients across Utah that live with end stage renal disease (ESRD), a disease that requires life-sustaining dialysis treatments. The resiliency of these patients is something I truly admire.

ESRD patients cannot live without dialysis treatment, which in some cases is needed at least three times per week, several hours per session, and is extremely taxing. Dialysis patients in Utah are among the most vulnerable members of our community, with many living on fixed incomes and unable to work as a result of the demanding treatment schedules.

As if these patients were not already facing enough challenges, some groups are advocating for changes to the healthcare system that would restrict the ability of patients to use charitable assistance to choose the healthcare plan of their choice. In the process, this would put a massive burden on the shoulders of Utah taxpayers.

In the many cases where patients living from kidney disease are struggling to deal with the financial burdens of their disease, organizations such as the American Kidney Fund (AKF), religious groups like the LDS church, and other charities provide charitable assistance to the patient. With their lives on the line on a daily basis, we believe that patients should be spending their time and energy focused on their care, rather than wondering how they’ll be able to make their next payment. These charitable assistance payments are a crucial lifeline for patients across Utah and the country, allowing access to the quality care they need to survive.

Patients who receive assistance can use it to pay for private healthcare coverage or out-of-pocket expenses associated with Medicare or Medicaid treatments. In short, it provides coverage options to patients. If insurance companies are allowed to refuse charitable premium assistance, or if laws are passed restricting the use of this charity, many dialysis patients will lose the right to choose the healthcare coverage that works best for them and their families.

Dialysis patients should have the same right to choose the plan of their choice that the rest of us enjoy. It is unconscionable to single out dialysis patients, a severely at-risk population, for harsher treatment.

While other state lawmakers in other states are considering restricting access to charitable premium assistance, I hope our lawmakers in Utah, and leaders in Washington, D.C., will stand up for this vulnerable population and protect their right to choose their own plan. It’s the right thing to do.

Bijan Sakaki is a resident of Salt Lake City and received past assistance for a similar debilitating autoimmune disease.