Crist signs Fla. kidney transplant bill
Associated Press Writer
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Alonzo Mourning, all 6-foot, 10-inches of him, returned Wednesday to Tallahassee to watch Gov. Charlie Crist sign into law a kidney transplant bill named for the former Miami Heat star.
Mourning, himself a kidney transplant recipient, had visited the Florida Capitol in April to seek support from Crist and lawmakers for the bill.
"He is taller than anyone you’ll ever meet, and not in a physical way," Crist said at the signing ceremony. "I mean, he stands up and stacks up because of his goodness."
Crist and Mourning then visited with patients at a DaVita dialysis center where the governor signed the measure.
The Alonzo Mourning Access to Care Act will let patients under 65 with end-stage renal disease and other disabilities obtain Medigap insurance if they already qualify for Medicare. That will count as the second of two coverages patients need to get on a waiting list for a kidney transplant. Medigap is private insurance designed to pick up expenses not covered by Medicare.
When the legislation goes into effect Oct. 1, it’s expected to make many more people eligible to purchase Medigap policies: an estimated 11,050 Medicare patients with end stage renal disease and 200,000 with disabilities. That includes an estimated 2,000 end state renal disease patients who now do not have the secondary coverage they need to get a transplant.
Shirley Lewis, 39, is in the latter group. She was undergoing dialysis when Crist and Mourning came by to visit.
"It would help a lot," Lewis said. "That’s a lot of money, and you see right now I’m disabled."
The new law means patients such as Lewis no longer will be faced with having to get rid of their homes, cars and other assets just to be able to claim indigence so they can get transplants as charity cases.
"You should not have to exhaust your assets in order to cater to your health care," Mourning said. "That’s ridiculous."
Insurers, though, warned it will mean even higher Medigap premiums in Florida, which already has the highest rates in the nation, according to a study cited in a legislative staff analysis of the bill (HB 675).
The average annual rate for the most basic Medgap policy with preventive care and hospital and physician coinsurance coverage is about $1,000, the report said. In Maryland, the same plan costs about $590.
Crist said he was less worried about the cost than the lives the legislation may save.
"We’ve got to care about people first and always," Crist said.