Nance: lawmakers ought to preserve vital health care for vulnerable Arizonans

As a physician living with a rare bleeding disorder, I know full well the importance of access to health care for patients living with complex diseases.

Dr. Danielle Nance

Yet life-saving care for many chronically ill Arizonans is under threat as a result of a misguided federal policy, and it’s up to the Arizona congressional delegation to swiftly help resolve it.

Living with hemophilia, a medical condition that reduces the ability of blood to clot and can cause severe bleeding from even a slight injury, is expensive. At points in my life, my monthly insurance premium costs have equaled nearly half of my rent. Some of these points coincided with hardly any personal income, including caring for a newborn and working through — and paying for — medical school.

Thankfully, in 2001, I was introduced to Patient Services, Inc., a nonprofit patient assistance organization that provides premium and cost-sharing assistance to patients battling rare and complex diseases. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I didn’t have to worry that my entire financial reserves would have to go toward maintaining a clean bill of health.

The support I received from PSI didn’t just make it possible for me to focus on my new baby, but the charity played an essential role in my ability to complete medical school and achieve my dream of becoming a physician to help others suffering from hemophilia.

Today, as a practicing hematologist, I regularly refer hemophilia patients in need of a temporary safety net to PSI. By assisting the chronically ill bridge to the care that they need and deserve, PSI and other charitable assistance programs routinely help protect patients from financial ruin, keep families together, and save lives.

But rather than seeking to preserve this indispensable lifeline for vulnerable Americans, the federal government is allowing insurers to prohibit it. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a policy that is allowing health insurers in 41 states, including Arizona, to deny health care to anyone who receives charitable premium and cost-sharing assistance.

Under this policy, hundreds of thousands of American lives are in jeopardy simply because they receive health care support from charities.

Perhaps even more confounding, this rule completely eradicates a private payment source for costly health care. By assisting patients using charitable — rather than taxpayer — dollars, these organizations help keep many of the most expensive Americans off of publically funded health care programs.

There is nothing more heartbreaking as a physician than seeing patients unable to access life-saving treatments.

Laudably, several Arizona congressional representatives supported 2016 federal legislation introduced by Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) that sought to address this harmful rule, and in the coming months, they will have another opportunity to support patients most in-need when Rep. Cramer introduces new legislation to modify CMS’ policy.

I urge all members of the Arizona delegation to sign on to this legislation when it is introduced and help protect chronic patients with nowhere else to turn. I know firsthand that life without access to medical treatment is no life at all.

Editor’s note: Dr. Nance is a Phoenix-based hematologist and vice chairman of the board of Patient Services, the first nonprofit patient assistance organization.

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