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5.1.17 Thousands of Americans living with chronic and life-threatening conditions may face the risk of losing lifesaving health care assistance if health insurers have it their way. While some big insurance companies, such as Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield, continue to single out individuals with kidney disease by denying access to critical care – preventing them from utilizing charitable assistance to pay their medical premiums – they’re likely to look to other chronic diseases next. There’s no telling which patients who rely on charitable premium assistance, also called third-party assistance, will face new obstacles. It could be people who need financial aid to pay for the costs of dealing with cancer, or multiple sclerosis, diabetes, arthritis or others. In the meantime, nonprofit organizations like Patient Services, Inc. and the American Kidney Fund (both rated 4 out of 4 stars by Charity Navigator) continue to support patients, including many in need of dialysis, despite the barriers being imposed by insurance companies. Kidney patients aren’t the only ones benefiting from charitable premium assistance and the vital financial support that it provides. From breast cancer to cystic fibrosis, the HealthWell Foundation is an organization that provides an important resource for the entire chronic disease community, offering a financial lifeline to those who are inadequately insured. One of its newest programs aims to support Medicare patients with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. According to a news release, the program will provide co-pay and premium assistance. “The financial impact on people living with ALS, and their families, is extreme and often results in their not benefiting from potential options,” said Barb Newhouse, president and CEO of the ALS Association, in the release. “This program will provide important financial assistance to cover copayments and premiums to eligible individuals, resulting in their ability to access care they would otherwise not be able to afford." It’s the first of its kind, a co-payment and premium assistance program for those with ALS, according to HealthWell. In addition to helping patients cover their health care premiums and co-payments, the organization also assists with deductibles and coinsurance that patients otherwise might pay out of pocket. Seeking to “reduce financial barriers to care for underinsured patients with chronic or life-threatening diseases,” the HealthWell Foundation helps patients gain access to necessary care and grants peace of mind. Cindy, a cancer patient who received help from the HealthWell Foundation to pay her insurance premiums, is among those testifying to the importance of premium assistance on the HealthWell website. She explained that the financial assistance she received from the nonprofit was absolutely crucial to a successful recovery: “I don’t know what I would do without this help,” she said. “Now I’m not afraid of having to choose between insurance and buying food.” For many patients like Cindy, having to choose between rent and health insurance is a reality. As health insurers continue to target some of society’s most vulnerable, we ask that you join the Chronic Disease Coalition, patients, families and fellow advocates as we demand that those living with life-threatening and chronic conditions have the same opportunities to choose and receive health insurance like everyone else. Take action today to urge your lawmakers to protect access to critical care for patients who need it most.