Two Dead Since Arizona Medicaid Program Slashed Transplant Coverage

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Gibson, who was close to her grandmother, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, said her grandparents "would be horrified that our country has gotten to the point that people can't get health care in one of the wealthier countries in the free world. Something is wrong with this picture."

Gibson counsels transplant patients at Tucson's University Medical Center, helping them through scary parts of the process and many "bumps in the road." Among her patients is David Hernandez, a 48-year-old father and former heavy-equipment operator, denied a lung transplant he's been told he needs to stay alive.

Gibson also cites the case of Tiffany Tate, 27, of Chandler, Ariz., a cystic fibrosis patient awaiting a double lung transplant at UMC. Tate's family has been trying to raise the money for the operation.

Tate has said that without the transplant, " I will die." She also worries about fellow patients who will need transplants in the future.

Some Democratic lawmakers in Arizona have said they want to revive the issue of the cuts when lawmakers meet again this month. Incoming Senate Minority Leader David Schapira wants them to restore about $1.4 million of funding.

"Failure to restore this funding is a death sentence for people who have committed no crimes," he said.

Arizona Surgeon Consortium Lobbies To Restore Transplant Funds,

In the meantime, a group of surgeons from four Arizona hospitals has formed a consortium to lobby to restore the money to pay for denied transplants. Among steps they're considering is reducing the number of pre-transplant tests that are performed, so that the funds could be used to help more patients get new organs.

The surgeons also contend that some of the data upon which Arizona officials eliminated transplant coverage was flawed. For example, they said liver transplant recipients infected with hepatitis C no longer have worse survival rates than those who are not infected.

Although the state determines which services Medicaid funds, it's actually Arizona hospitals that have taken Medicaid patients off their transplant lists, said Monica Coury, a spokeswoman for AHCCCS.

"That is a hospital issue, not a Medicaid issue," Coury said. "It is a matter of whether the hospitals are going to fund the transplants of patients without payors through their charity care dollars or whether the individual can find some other donor source."

Patients who are uninsured or underinsured because their health insurance won't cover transplants would be moved to inactive status. Coury said AHCCCS continues to cover after-care following a transplant, "so a hospital could decide to keep the patient on the active list and fund the transplant through their charity dollars and then AHCCCS would cover everything else. Arizona hospitals spend millions in charity care each year."

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