A new policy from Blue Cross Blue Shield in Tennessee poses a major threat to patients with kidney disease - and it could easily spread to other states, unless insurance companies are asked to do the right thing.
For patients dealing with kidney failure, dialysis is a matter of life or death, WSMV-TV, the NBC affiliate in Nashville, recently reported. Dialysis treatments clean toxins out of their blood, performing a function their kidneys no longer can.
But it’s expensive for kidney patients’ insurance providers, because the treatment is needed multiple times each week, either until the patient receives a kidney transplant or for the rest of their lives. And so insurance companies have been plotting to find ways to get kidney patients off of their plans.
The latest example of this is in Tennessee, where Blue Cross Blue Shield has targeted low-income patients with kidney failure, or end-stage renal disease. WSMV-TV outlined this discrimination in a piece entitled "Patients at risk of losing health insurance."
Jeanie Murphy has been on dialysis for 13 years. She is blind and diabetic and suffers from kidney failure. She’s also one of 1,600 low-income Tennesseans who rely on financial aid in the form of premium assistance to afford their medical bills and receive lifesaving dialysis treatments.
American Kidney Fund provides her with that premium assistance. But Blue Cross Blue Shield no longer wants to accept premium payments from charity groups like American Kidney Fund. That puts patients like Murphy at risk of being unable to make their insurance premium payments.
“I have to have my son or my daughter in-law help me with a lot of situations since I can’t read materials now that I’m blind,” Murphy told WSMV. “I hope they can work together to help us.”
Murphy isn’t alone. A woman in Middle Tennessee recently called out another insurer, Humana, that is also trying to block low-income kidney patients from paying their premium bills.
"I can attest to how harmful health insurers’ attempts are, preventing us from turning to friends, families and charities in our time of need," Dovie Clifford wrote in The Tennessean. "My insurer, Humana, recently rejected my premium payment because I receive charitable premium assistance."
While some major health insurers recently lobbied the federal government to try to block kidney patients from using premium assistance, a federal judge shot down that plan, and so current federal guidelines do not allow for this type of discriminatory behavior by health insurance companies.
And yet, so far, the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance has done nothing to stop this.
We hope policymakers in Tennessee – and in every state across the country – will do the right thing and protect patients with chronic health conditions like kidney disease.
Blue Cross Blue Shield claims that the American Kidney Fund doesn’t meet its requirements for so-called "third party payors" because AKF serves people based on both financial need and disease. But so do many other disease advocacy groups whose patients need a financial lifeline. There’s no telling who Blue Cross will put in the crosshairs next.
You can find contact information for the Tennessee insurance department and insurance commissioner Julie Mix McPeak by clicking here.