Illness can keep electric bill wolves at bay

illness (Svenstorm/Flickr)

The pending snow storm has the potential to bring a halt to electricity disconnects for non-payment, as we noted earlier this week, but a call from another reader reminded me of another factor that can stop disconnects cold.

A Dallas man called saying his mother had just returned to her trailer home in Northwest Houston last week after a lengthy hospitalization following heart surgery. She was getting caught up on her bills but her electric provider, Stream Energy, had yet to receive her check and the service was cut Thursday.
The man couldn’t make the trip to Houston to rescue his mom but he was able to pay the bill via phone, including an $80 reconnection fee and a $40 “priority” fee to get it back on sooner. Several hours after we spoke her service was back on.
Similar problems can be avoided for the seriously ill under existing state rules, however. Essentially one needs to have their doctor or other health professional contact the electric provider to tell them disconnected service would put the customer/patient at risk. They have to also provide a written statement to that effect and the customer has to enter into some sort of deferred payment plan. This will keep the wolves at bay for up to 63 days.
Interestingly, the company doing the disconnecting — in Houston that’s CenterPoint Energy — can choose to not do the disconnect if they believe the customer might qualify for the above solution. CenterPoint isn’t responsible for finding out if they are, according to the rule, but if the worker notices the customer is bedridden and on a heavy-duty respirator for example, they can hold off and notify the electric provider.
The rules that apply in this case are below, but the Public Utility Commission has started to consider making changes to the rules for so-called “critical care” customers. Here are links to videos of meetings held on the topic on Nov. 20.

(g) Disconnection of ill and disabled. A REP having disconnection authority under the provisions of subsection (b) of this section shall not authorize a disconnection for nonpayment of electric service at a permanent, individually metered dwelling unit of a delinquent customer when that customer establishes that disconnection of service will cause some person residing at that residence to become seriously ill or more seriously ill.
(1) Each time a customer seeks to avoid disconnection of service under this subsection, the customer shall accomplish all of the following by the stated date of disconnection:
(A) Have the person’s attending physician (for purposes of this subsection, the “physician” shall mean any public health official, including medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy,nurse practitioners, registered nurses, and any other similar public health official) call or contact the REP by the stated date of disconnection;
(B) Have the person’s attending physician submit a written statement to the REP; and (C) Enter into a deferred payment plan.
(2) The prohibition against service disconnection provided by this subsection shall last 63 days from the issuance of the bill for electric service or a shorter period agreed upon by the REP and the customer or physician.
(3) If, in the normal performance of its duties, a TDU obtains information that a customer scheduled for disconnection may qualify for delay of disconnection pursuant to this subsection, and the TDU reasonably believes that the information may be unknown to the REP, the TDU shall delay the disconnection and promptly communicate the information to the REP. The TDU shall disconnect such customer if it subsequently receives a confirmation of the disconnect notice from the REP.
Nothing herein should be interpreted as requiring a TDU to assess or to inquire as to the customer’s status before performing a disconnection, or to provide prior notice of the disconnection, when not otherwise required.