Arizona budget cuts hit patients

Dec. 3, 2010 at 12:48 PM
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PHOENIX, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- Arizona has cut financing for transplant operations under its version of Medicaid, throwing many critically ill patients off waiting lists, doctors say.

Arizona transplant specialists say patients who were in line to receive transplants one day were, after the state's budget cuts at the beginning of October, ruled ineligible the next day, The New York Times reported.

"The most difficult discussions are those that involve patients who had been on the donor list for a year or more and now we have to tell them they're not on the list anymore," said Dr. Rainer Gruessner, a transplant specialist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. "The frustration is tremendous."

Francisco Felix, 32, who has hepatitis C and needs a new liver, learned a few weeks ago a family friend was dying and wanted to donate her liver to him. But the budget cuts meant he no longer qualified for a state-financed transplant.

When his family was unable to come up with the $200,000 cost of the transplant surgery, the liver went to another patient.

"I know times are tight and cuts are needed but you can't cut human lives," Felix's wife Flor said. "You just can't do that."

The cuts have sparked a heated political battle, with Democrats condemning the cuts as "Brewercare," after Gov. Jan Brewer.

"We made it very clear at the time of the vote that this was a death sentence," said Leah Landrum Taylor, a Democratic state senator.

Republican State Rep. John Kavanagh has promised to reconsider at least some of the state's cuts for transplants when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

Kavanagh, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said he does not believe lawmakers had the complete picture of the effect of the cuts would have on patients when they voted.

"It's difficult to be linked to a situation where people's lives are jeopardized and turned upside down," he said.

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