Crist Signs Alonzo Mourning’s Kidney Disease Bill
Gov. Charlie Crist signed legislation Wednesday that will allow end stage renal disease patients under 65 to have Medigap coverage, as he promised he would when former basketball star Alonzo Mourning came to the Capitol in April to lobby for the measure.
And as Mourning, who suffered from kidney disease himself, promised then, he was standing next to the governor as Crist put pen to paper.
The unlikely duo that helped with the full court press this year to increase kidney disease patients' access to medical care appeared at a Tallahassee dialysis center for the bill signing. They were flanked by patients' advocates and bill sponsors Sen. Thad Altman and Ritch Workman, both Republicans from the Melbourne area.
Under federal law, Medicare beneficiaries over 65 can already get Medigap coverage, which covers kidney treatments, without having first to spend down their money to become eligible for Medicaid. The bill (HB 675) signed Wednesday by Crist and dubbed the "Alonzo Mourning Access to Care Act" by lawmakers, allows younger patients with end stage renal disease to access the supplementary coverage as well.
Mourning, who was able to resume his playing career with the Miami Heat after a successful kidney transplant, told an audience of patients' advocates that the change was long overdue because everyone who suffers from the disease is not a former NBA all-star.
"I was blessed enough to have the resources," he said. "I was blessed enough to be provided with the education so that I could actually know what I was dealing with. I could afford the medications. Everything fell into place and I was able to go through a successful transplantation and get back on my feet and play basketball again.
"By passing this bill, we are now providing access to people facing this tragic disease, giving them a chance to get quality care and preserve their assets," Mourning continued. "You should not have to exhaust your assets in order to cater to your health care."
Mourning said that in lobbying for HB 675, he felt like he did more good for Floridians than he did in his career of slam dunks and blocked shots in Miami.
"I feel like I've touched more lives off the court than I have on the court," Mourning told the audience. "The reason for me going through that discomfort was to change other peoples lives in the process. I'm pleased to be a voice - not just here in the state of Florida, but across this country - for people who are dealing with chronic disease."
Crist praised Mourning's efforts to convince lawmakers to expand health access for kidney disease patients, saying the bill would affect 11,000 residents.
"When somebody of his celebrity status ...undertakes a cause like this and really gets behind it and really pushes it, it's hard to say no," Crist said before signing the bill.
"He's obviously known for being a tremendous athlete - a great basketball player, but Alonzo Mourning is a lot more than that," Crist continued. "He's been through a lot personally as it relates to health...to turn all of that and the multitude of gifts that he has been given to help thousands...through this legislation tells you more about the inside of this man than the size and the height of him." "
Altman, whose daughter had a kidney failure scare, also praised Mourning's role in gaining passage of the legislation this year after it stalled last year.
Workman took on the bill early in the process, before Mourning got on board.
"There is no kidney failure in my family; I had no personal experience to point to," he said. "But when the injustice was explained to me, that folks in my great state have to burn out off all of their assets down to their car (and) get rid of their houses in order be declared indigent simply to get in line to get a transplant, I said this is an injustice."
The bill becomes law October 1.