OPINION – I spent most of my career as a nurse and kidney transplant coordinator. For years, I helped connect others to lifesaving treatments. But I also know what it’s like to be on the other side with more than 94,000 Californians living with kidney failure, also known as end-stage renal disease (ESRD).

I have had type 1 diabetes since I was six years old, which eventually damaged my kidneys. In 1996, I received my first kidney transplant when my kidneys stopped functioning. Then in 2014, my transplant began to fail for reasons unknown. I began dialysis for four hours a day, three days a week to filter out the toxins in my body. It was a grueling treatment, but my only choice to stay alive.

Eventually, I lost my nursing job.  Soon after I started to lose my vision.  My insurance premiums increased from $900 a month to $1,200 – not including my medication costs—and I struggled to make ends meet.  When it became clear that I was probably going to lose my home, I became depressed, afraid and lost. 

Being on dialysis limited my options for work. Because I do not qualify for Medi-Cal, charitable premium assistance was my safety net. To be clear, it is not a choice for me or for thousands of others – it is a matter of life or death.

That is why I came to Sacramento in April last year to testify against SB 1156—which Governor Brown ultimately vetoed—because it would have limited charitable premium assistance for kidney failure patients in California. I’m shocked to see the bill reincarnated as AB 290 and now being rushed through the Assembly by its author Assemblymember Jim Wood.  AB 290 is as harmful to patients as SB 1156 was. Charitable premium assistance from the nonprofit American Kidney Fund (AKF) kept me from losing my home and ending access to this assistance would take a lifeline away from California patients.

I will forever be grateful that AKF stepped in with financial assistance to pay my premiums. It saved me, the way it saved nearly 4,000 other Californians last year.

AKF helped me cover my insurance premiums while I was on dialysis for a year and a half. This support kept the mounting medical bills from dialysis, medications, surgeries and other treatments manageable. I no longer had to focus on making ends meet, but could instead focus on my health.  Having the peace of mind that my insurance premiums would be paid and I would continue to have access to lifesaving treatments lifted a massive weight.

I am terrified by the possibility that the California State Legislature may pass AB 290, which would pull the rug out from under California’s sickest patients.

As a nurse, I advocated for my patients. That is what we do. Now, I am asking for our California state legislators to advocate for the thousands of other Californians who share my story. Please do not support AB 290. Keep access to charitable premium assistance safe. We do not have many options to cover our medical bills, but charitable assistance programs can help save us from losing our coverage, ending up homeless – and even death.

I am so fortunate to have made it out of my dialysis treatment unit alive, but that is only because of nonprofit programs like AKF’s. Charitable premium assistance gave me my humanity back. Please do not take it away from California’s patients.

By Lori Noyes | Special to the OBSERVER