SALEM, Ore. -- Oregon legislative leaders refused Friday to restore funding for an organ transplant program for welfare recipients, leaving five people without money to pay for operations needed to save their lives.
The Legislative Emergency Board rejected 9-6 an attempt to appropriate $220,000 to reopen temporarily a welfare transplant program eliminated last year. Instead it voted to study the whole issue of how to provide health care to the needy.
The money would have kept the program going to two months and provided life-saving transplants for up to five people on Medicare. Some of those patients have already begun fund-raising campaigns seeking private donations.
House Speaker Vera Katz, D-Portland, said the recommendations, which will be presented to the board in March, may or may not contain money for welfare transplants.
Katz said to reopen the program temporarily nwould detract from the department's recommendations and 'is not a good way to do the public's businesses.'
After the vote, supporters of the transplant program, many of them with family members in need of operations, indicated they would file an initiative petition and ask voters to create a fund for pay for the surgery.
'We will not give up,' said Susan McGee, the aunt of Adam 'Coby' Howard, 7, of Gresham, who was denied a bone marrow transplant by the state and died before his family could raise the $100,000 to pay for the operation.
Senate President John Kitzhaber, D-Roseburg, an emergency room physician, argued that by appropriating the money the board would be providing a medical service to Medicare recipients that is not available to people who have no health insurance or inadequate coverage.
Kitzhaber said the state has the money to pay for welfare transplants, but added, 'The issue is not one of transplants. The issue is how do we spend the next available health care dollar.'
'It's a question of equity,' he said. 'Infants are dying because of inadequate pre-natal care and people are dying of strokes because they can't afford blood pressure medicine.'