A California ballot initiative is threatening to limit the cost of kidney dialysis, and thus, cap profits of dialysis companies. These companies have so far spent $111 million in funds to try to defeat the measure.
Dialysis is used in patients experiencing a rapid loss of kidney function. It is used as a temporary measure in either acute kidney injury or in those awaiting kidney transplant and as a permanent measure in those for whom a transplant is not possible. Patients typically undergo hours-long treatments three times a week.
Provide Fresenius Medical Care recently donated a whopping $5 million to the anti-Proposition 8 campaign funds, pushing the funds into record-breaking numbers. More than $70 million has been spent on television and radio advertising efforts as well as consulting services in the last two months alone.
“Funding makes a big difference, and opponents have outspent proponents seven-to-one on TV and radio ads,” said Andrea Harris, senior vice president of healthcare at Height Capital Market.
“Health care measures are expensive,” said Kati Phillips of California Common Cause. “There’s a lot of money to be made off of sick people.”
In fact, records show that dialysis companies make approximately $3 billion in annual profits from their California operations, and the companies are contending the measure is a tactic to pressure them to let their employees unionize.
“We will spend what is necessary to protect patients from this dangerous and irresponsible ballot measure,” said Kathy Fairbanks, spokesperson for the anti-Proposition 8 campaign.
Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West is leading the efforts in support of the measure and, to date, the pro-Proposition side has raised $18 million. Supporters say the measure will ensure dialysis providers put patients before profits.
“These are huge corporations that have not been accountable to consumers — the patients,” campaign spokesperson Sean Wherley said.
Fresenius, headquartered in Germany and the largest for-profit dialysis providers in California, and Denver-based DaVita Inc. have joined forces to fund the majority of the No on 8 campaign. Many ads feature dialysis patients.
“If clinics have to close, people like me would die,” a woman identified as California dialysis patient Sasona Goodblatt says in one ad. “Prop 8 literally threatens my life.”
Proposition 8 prohibits dialysis clinics from charging patients more than 115 percent of what providers spend on patient care and quality improvement. Providers will need to dish out rebates or pay penalties if they exceed this limit. Clinics have warned that management expenses will be counted as profits, which would bankrupt them.
“It is definitely not in the patient’s best interest to have their clinics close and to limit access to a life-sustaining treatment,” said Fairbanks. “You don’t want to cut off their access to dialysis. They will die.”
SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West also is using dialysis patients to gain exposure for their campaign efforts, including an ad where kidney patient Robert Costa complains about unsanitary conditions at a clinic where he says there’s urine on the floor and cockroaches scattering about.
“They just care about the money. They don’t care about the patients,” he said.