Dr. Richard Williams (File photo)

As a physician, I believe I have a moral and ethical obligation to voice concern when I become aware of proposed legislation that may endanger patient health. As the founder, president, and CEO of the Minority Health Institute, a nonprofit organization which serves the public interest, I also believe it is my duty to raise alarm when I find legislation that will definitely have a negative effect on the health of minority patients who already suffer daily from a lack of access to health care. Senate Bill 1156 fits both of these categories.

If passed, SB 1156 will severely limit the ability of charitable organizations from providing financial assistance to dialysis patients in need. These are the charitable organizations whose financial assistance allows for access to treatment and care for thousands of patients suffering from kidney failure in California, including many minority patients. For these patients, charitable assistance is the sole reason they are able to continue paying for their costly and life-sustaining dialysis treatment.

Dialysis takes a toll on patients both mentally and physically, and is also extremely time consuming, requiring many patients to receive treatment in a clinic for upwards of three hours a day, three times per week. These pressures combined push many patients out of work, forcing them to rely on outside assistance to maintain payments for their treatment. Income disparities between ethnicities place minority patients at an even bigger disadvantage in these situations, with many lacking necessary savings or family members who are able to financially aid them in emergency medical situations such as these.

Minorities are at the greatest risk of developing kidney disease and subsequent kidney failure. While research is unclear as to why this is the case, many studies point to higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity in minority communities, all of which contribute to kidney disease. Beyond these factors, minorities in the United States suffer greatly from a lack of access to health care in comparison to White Americans. According to the Kidney Foundation, nearly 2 out of 5 Hispanics, 1 out of 4 Black Americans, and 1 out of 3 Native Americans are living uninsured. This not only affects preventive care, but also affects treatment of diagnosed diseases and early stage diagnosis that is critical to slowing or stopping diseases that lead to kidney failure.

These unfortunate realities have led to high rates of kidney disease in minority communities and diagnoses at increasingly earlier ages. Large groups of people who already suffer from income disparities and high poverty levels are suddenly met with monthly bills for their dialysis treatment that may never go away, and almost certainly will last their entire lifetime. This is where charitable assistance plays a critical role. It bridges a gap, providing minority patients with financial assistance needed to access quality care. Without charitable assistance, many minority patients’ kidney failure would surely go untreated, leading ultimately to death.

When I founded the Minority Health Institute in 1987, my goal was to advance the health and wellness of communities of color and those in financial need. That is still our mission to this day. Unnecessary, flagrant and misguided legislation such as SB 1156 threatens this mission at its core. It threatens the entire dialysis patient population, allowing for patient care and access to treatment to be disregarded.

California’s legislators must take heed. Patient access to reliable, uninterrupted, quality care is the issue that is at stake here. SB 1156 will cause irreparable harm, cutting access to necessary health care for thousands of California’s most vulnerable patient populations. As a medical professional, it is my duty to alert others to these potential harmful side effects and to call on legislators to vote NO on SB 1156. I urge you to join me in defeating this potentially harmful bill.