Potential November Ballot Measure Targets Dialysis ‘Profiteering’

Dialysis patients described unsanitary conditions at centers, including issues of rodents and cockroaches.

Pending certification from the Department of Elections, California voters will weigh a ballot measure aimed at capping prices of dialysis centers.

Dialysis patients and technicians on Thursday submitted about 600,000 signatures at election departments statewide and about 17,000 in San Francisco, according to the healthcare arm of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The California Secretary of State requires just 366,000 signatures for 2018 ballot initiatives.

The measure is said to be the first initiative addressing dialysis patients, who spend several hours each week attached to a machine that cleans blood that failed or removed kidneys can no longer process. Life on dialysis has many challenges, like leaving little time for other demands of life and little energy for much else.

The California Limits on Dialysis Clinics’ Revenue and Required Refunds Initiative would require clinics to issue refunds to patients or insurers if charges exceed 115 percent of the cost of service. It also requires additional staff training, patient education, and counseling. Proponents say this would prevent dialysis centers from continuing to overcharge for services while cutting costs.

“It’s needed to improve patient care,” says Emerson Padua, a dialysis technician at Fresenius Medical Care. “Patients see that staff is doing the best they can with what they have.”

Patients at City Hall on Thursday spoke of seeing cockroaches and mice while frequently bleeding out because understaffed technicians can’t reach them in time.

“My treatment is taking a toll,” says 70-year-old Ida Pannell. “I believe dialysis centers can do more to provide better patient care.”

Dialysis patient Ida Pannell and technician Emerson Padua help deliver signatures to the Department of Elections (Ida Mojadad)

Predictably, large dialysis centers like DaVita and Fresenius oppose the potential measure and find it to be flawed. And so do some technicians who are passionate about their patients, whose lives depend on being near a center. 

Critics like Patients and Caregivers to Protect Dialysis — a coalition of more than 60 groups — say lost revenue will force centers to close, putting their patients’ health at risk. 

DaVita technician Debbie Coote even perceives it as a roundabout way to unionize technicians, which DaVita has been accused of preventing. With tears in her eyes, she mentioned the stringent regulation centers like hers follow to take care of patients she considers family.

“It’s just difficult for me,” Coote says when thinking of her patients. “Everything we do is for patient care.”

Voters are already inundated with political ads for the June election but can expect to see campaigns for November after the California Secretary of State labels ballots in July. In the meantime, dialysis patients are stuck spending several hours each week beside a blood-cleaning machine.

Read more:

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