One option he found was the discount program Southern California Edison offers customers with certain medical equipment in their homes. Hawkes qualified because he uses a CPAP machine to help him breath while sleeping. The machine itself doesn’t use a lot of power, but Hawkes was glad to receive any help available.
“Obviously, I had to get a doctor’s note,” Hawkes, 67, said.
Like many utility companies, the two serving the Coachella Valley, Southern California Edison and the Imperial Irrigation District, both offer discounts for certain medical equipment. The two local programs work differently: Southern California Edison, which serves the eastern valley, gives all approved customers a set amount of extra electricity at the lower billing rate. For IID customers, the discount varies based on the type of equipment in the home.
The medical baseline program for Southern California Edison is open to any household with a full-time resident using any one of specific medical devices — including a hospital bed, motorized wheelchair, dialysis machine or oxygen generator. Certain medical conditions, including multiple sclerosis and paralysis, also qualify a household. Qualifications for the IID program are similar. Both require a sign off from a doctor.
A Southern California Edison spokeswoman said the company has around 84,000 customers enrolled in the medical baseline program. Because the effect on their bills varies depending on electricity usage and where they live, it’s not possible to say with any certainty the typical amount of money saved.
The savings may not be huge, but most people welcome the chance to cut their monthly electric bill, especially if they’re also facing high medical costs.
Hawkes couldn’t estimate how much money he’s saved through the Southern California Edison program, known as a medical baseline allowance. Between it and other discount programs he qualifies for -— plus improvements he made on his home — Hawkes said his summertime bill is usually around $160 or $190.
The Imperial Irrigation District reported it had processed 352 applications for its Medical Equipment Energy Usage Assistance Program in 2015, with total discounts surpassing $55,000. That’s far ahead of the $35,000 discounted for 2014.
Individual monthly discounts of IID customers ranged from about $5 to $75.
Elizabeth Hengstler used the IID program for a year and a half to reduce the electric bill for the state-licensed residential group homes she runs in Indio under the name Desert Cottages.
At one house in a gated community in north Indio this week, some of the six residents sat on the back patio playing games while calming music played inside the home. The home caters to people with advanced mental impairments. Those who need help with basic care but don't require the medical attention of a hospital. It also houses residents after they've moved into hospice care.
When she asked for an explanation in writing, IID didn’t respond.
“We just try to maximize anything possible,” Hengstler said. “Anything to try and keep the costs under control.”
Marion Champion, an IID spokeswoman, told The Desert Sun that the utility company is going to again extend the discount to Hengstler. While she could not discuss specific account details, she said there had been issues with processing the application.
Champion noted that the medical discount program is intended for residential customers and that IID is looking at its guidelines to possibly make that clearer.
Hengstler wondered if that distinction should matter in her case.
“If these individuals were in their homes, being taken care of by family members, wouldn’t they qualify,” she said. “ They’ve literally been told they can’t stay at home. This is their home.”
Health and wellness reporter Barrett Newkirk can be reached at (760)778-4767, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @barrettnewkirk.
Southern California Edison customers: For information on Southern California Edison's medical baseline discount, visit www.sce.com or call 1-800-655-4555.
Imperial Irrigation District customers: For information on IID's Medical Equipment Energy Usage Assistance Program (MEEUAP) visit www.iid.com or call 1-800-303-7756.