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Brewer Backs Down On Transplant Funding, But Now Wants To Kick A Quarter Million People Off Medicaid

By Zaid Jilani on January 20, 2011 at 11:00 am

"Brewer Backs Down On Transplant Funding, But Now Wants To Kick A Quarter Million People Off Medicaid"

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As ThinkProgress previously reported, Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ) has enacted major cuts to the state’s medical transplant funding program, which the Arizona legislature passed in October. Since then, two Arizonans were unable to get the funding for the transplants they needed to survive and tragically passed away. Despite these deaths, Brewer refused to revisit the transplant funding issue, even calling the life-saving transplants “optional” at one point.

After months of protests from transplant patients and their advocates in public office and the media, Brewer finally gave in yesterday. In the executive summary of her budget proposal for fiscal years 2012 and 2013, Brewer has proposed setting up a $151 million “uncompensated-care pool to pay health-care providers for ‘life-saving’ procedures” like the transplants:

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer proposed a way to fund vital organ transplants, three months after the state became the only one in the U.S. to stop paying for them to cut Medicaid spending. Brewer, 66, said she wants to set up a $151 million uncompensated-care pool to pay health-care providers for “life- saving” procedures, according to a summary of her budget proposal. The fund would partly offset the Republican’s plan to end coverage for 280,000 Arizonans by reining in eligibility.

“Given the state’s billion dollar-plus deficit in Medicaid funding over the next two years, this proposal is designed to provide reimbursement for the most critically ill patients as determined by medical professionals,” Paul Senseman, a spokesman for Brewer, said today by e-mail.

However, what Brewer is giving with one hand, she is taking away with the other. Brewer is rightly proposing a funding solution for transplant patients in need of care, but she is also proposing dropping more than a quarter million people from the state’s Medicaid rolls. Included among the cuts is eliminating funding for 5,200 “seriously mentally ill individuals,” which is particularly shocking in light of the recent shooting in Tucson, where the shooter is widely suspected to be mentally ill:

The governor’s plan calls for removing 280,000 mostly childless adults from Medicaid. That would slash $541.5 million in general-fund spending next year, according to the summary. Cutting 5,200 “seriously mentally ill individuals” from Medicaid would lower spending by $79.8 million. The governor proposed $10.3 million in prescription-drug funding to offset the eliminated coverage.

Sarah Muench, a spokeswoman for state Rep. Anna Tovar (D), tells Bloomberg News that the Medicaid cuts actually might prevent Brewer’s pool from being effective, as the “pool won’t be big enough to guarantee transplants because taking people out of Medicaid will create a surge in hospital patients who can’t afford to pay.” And while Brewer may justify the cuts by saying they are a result of budgetary constraints, she has also proposed a slew of new corporate income tax breaks that will only further widen the state’s budget deficit.

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imissmolly writes, “So lemme get this straight. These 280,000 people kicked off Medicaid — are they just commanded to never get sick? Chances are they will get sick, and without insurance, they will stay sick and get sicker until they wind up in an emergency room. Which they will be unable to pay for, so the state winds up eating the costs. How is this less expensive than keeping these people healthy in the first place?

And don’t even get me started on the intelligence of leaving the mentally ill untreated…I suspect Brewer is just playing a numbers game. Get the bottom line looking right. She’s figuring that by the time the repercussions of her decisions become noticeable, she’ll be out of office and it will be somebody else’s problem.”

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