Two Dead Since Arizona Medicaid Program Slashed Transplant Coverage

VIDEO: Controversy takes center stage in the nation?s health care debate.
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Two Arizona Medicaid recipients denied potentially life-saving organ transplants have died, even as Arizona doctors, transplant survivors and some lawmakers push to restore health care benefits slashed last fall.

On Oct. 1, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System stopped paying for seven types of transplants that the state's GOP governor, Jan Brewer, and GOP-led legislature said they could no longer afford. The state faces a projected $1 billion program deficit by July 2011.

They eliminated heart transplants for non-ischemic cardiomyopathy, lung transplants, pancreatic transplants, some bone marrow transplants, and liver transplants for patients infected with hepatitis C. Arizona also restricted coverage of prosthetics, eliminated podiatric services, preventive dental services, and wellness and physical exams for adult Medicaid enrollees.

A former University of Arizona Medical Center patient waiting for a new liver died on Dec. 28 -- the second person to die since the cuts went into effect, according to Dr. Rainer Gruessner, chairman of surgery at the University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson.

On Thursday, surgery department spokeswoman Jo Marie Gellerman confirmed that the patient, who died at another facility, "was our patient. He was on our list." She declined to identify the patient, citing medical confidentiality.

On Nov. 28, Mark Price, a 37-year-old leukemia patient from Goodyear, Ariz., died before he could obtain a $250,000 bone marrow transplant that an anonymous donor offered to fund after hearing media reports about Price's plight.

According to a Nov. 29 report by ABC's Phoenix affiliate KTAR, AHCCCS said Price's transplant was not covered because bone marrow donations from unrelated donors fail. Price's doctor said such procedures succeed 42 percent of the time. Price's family said his home went into foreclosure as he struggled with accumulating medical expenses.

The reductions in Arizona's safety net for the poor have drawn criticism from physicians as well as transplant recipients. Both groups have particularly attacked the practice of denying services to sick patients who had qualified for transplants before Arizona, with federal approval, changed its law. They warn that Arizona's actions may be a harbinger for the rest of the country as needs continue to outpace budgets.

FDR Granddaughter Nina Roosevelt Gibson, A Transplant Recipient, Is Outraged

Among the critics is Nina Roosevelt Gibson, an Arizona psychologist and granddaughter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Gibson, 68, received a heart transplant at the University of Arizona Medical Center in 2000 because of a genetic mutation that leads to heart failure.

Her daughter, who has had heart failure since surviving sudden cardiac arrest at age 28, qualifies for transplant coverage under the Medicare program for the disabled, but isn't high on the waiting list because her health is "pretty stable." Gibson worries that further cuts at the state or federal level could jeopardize her daughter's ability to get a new heart.

"I'm outraged when we have 90-something people who were promised a transplant and were told as of Oct. 1 that you can't have it because the state wants to save money," said Gibson, of Vail, Ariz., outside Tucson. "They were promised transplants and have not been given the time to raise the money that's necessary. People are going to lose their lives because they don't have the money."

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