Two Dead Since Arizona Medicaid Program Slashed Transplant Coverage

Two patients needing transplants dead since Arizona coverage cuts.

ByABC News
January 6, 2011, 6:09 PM

Jan. 6, 2011— -- 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.