New York’s Home Energy Fair Practices Act protects residential utility consumers from service termination for non payment of bills in life threatening situations or where a serious medical condition would be aggravated by termination of service. Despite enactment of this law in 1981, we are reminded daily that it is not self enforcing, and that vigilant advocacy and action is needed to assure that the benefits of the law intended by the Legislature are effectuated by the utilities and the Public Service Commission (PSC).
Today, a 90-plus degree summer day, we received a call from a Con Edison customer with diabetes and a heart condition whose electric service was shut off for non payment. The customer reports that when he sought public assistance,
- He brought along a letter from his doctor stating that continued service was needed for refrigeration of insulin needed to treat his diabetes
- Although arrangements were being made for the bulk of the arrears to be paid with public assistance, the company increased the amount of its demand for a payment on arrears necessary to restore service and refused to turn on service
- The utility was advised that the customer had a doctor’s letter saying he needed electricity to refrigerate his insulin
- The company representative said the customer could just keep his insulin on ice.
The American Diabetes Association warns that insulin must be kept at proper temperatures, and that it can be ruined if it is kept at temperatures below 36 degrees Fahrenheit. Icing it is obviously not appropriate.
PSC Medical Emergency regulations regulations require a utility to continue service to a “seriously ill” person, notwithstanding any unpaid bills, when the utility receives an appropriate letter from a doctor documenting that the illness would be aggravated by the absence of utility service:
Any certification of medical emergency shall be submitted on stationery of the medical doctor or local board of health, shall be signed by the medical doctor or an official of the local board of health qualified to make a medical judgment and shall state the name and address of the certifying medical doctor or local board of health, the doctor’s State registration number, the name and address of the seriously ill person, the nature of the serious illness or medical condition and an affirmation that the illness or condition exists or will be aggravated by the absence of utility service. 16 NYCRR § 11.5
The regulations, which have the force of law, do not allow utility collection employees to override the judgment of a physician.
PULP referred the customer to the PSC Emergency Hotline, 1-800-342-3355 for action by the PSC. The PSC Hotline regulations empower agency staff to order a utility to restore service. The PSC Hotline is open from 7:30 A.M. to 7:30 PM.
For further information, see PULP’s Help Center web page on medical emergency situations. It has a sample doctor’s letter documenting a medical emergency situation due to the need for continued electric service to refrigerate insulin.