Although the District’s uninsured rate has fallen in recent years, many of the District’s most vulnerable patients are struggling to keep up with the premium payments necessary to maintain their health-care insurance. While the Affordable Care Act was an important step to help increase access to health care locally, without a sustainable solution to address the rising cost of treatment, thousands of D.C. residents could be left out in the cold. Fortunately, local charitable assistance programs have stepped in to serve as a temporary bridge to care, at no added cost to the public.

As health insurers increase premiums and patients’ out-of-pocket costs, the cost of simply maintaining the insurance coverage necessary to manage chronic and life-threatening conditions – cancer, HIV/AIDS, hemophilia, rheumatoid arthritis, among others – has become prohibitive for many people. When costs become too high for patients, evidence suggests that they skip vital treatments or undertreat, which can lead to deteriorating health outcomes or death.

But patient health is not the only thing that suffers when treatment becomes too expensive. People who cannot afford the treatments they need to manage their conditions are often too ill to regularly attend work, which can result in the loss of employment, insurance and their homes. Still others seek help from government programs or visit hospitals for primary care, which drives up the uncompensated care costs paid for by D.C. tax dollars.

No patient should have to choose between meeting their health-care needs and confronting financial ruin.

In the face of rising costs, local non-profit patient assistance programs have stepped in to serve as a temporary bridge to life-saving and life-sustaining treatments for those in dire need. Importantly, these local assistance programs help alleviate the onerous financial pressures that patients face through charitable contributions, which means improved health for D.C. patients without a dime of added health costs for D.C. government or taxpayers.

It is not hyperbole to suggest that if non-profit patient assistance programs did not exist, people would die.

I founded Patient Services, Inc. (PSI), the country’s first non-profit patient assistance program, from my kitchen table in Virginia nearly 30 years ago. As a hospital counselor and someone living with both hemophilia and HIV, I saw firsthand the financial devastation that families faced as they tried to treat their chronic medical conditions.

Since then, the non-profit patient assistance industry has helped tens of thousands of DC residents – and millions more across the country –  access the care necessary to lead healthy and productive lives. The U.S. Office of Inspector General issued a positive opinion – also the first of its kind – to help govern the way that programs like ours operate.

When I founded PSI, I envisioned it as only a temporary solution to help families access care until a sustainable long-term solution to rising health costs could be found. Unfortunately, that was nearly 30 years ago, and exorbitant health-care costs continue to dominate the headlines. The non-profit patient assistance industry remains as vital as ever.

This country needs a long-term solution to address rising treatment costs instead of relying on non-profit charitable organizations. However, until stakeholders find that solution, local charitable organizations will continue to do everything we can to make sure no D.C. residents falls through the cracks.

Dana A. Kuhn, is the founder and president of Patient Services, a Virginia-based non-profit patient assistance organization.