Arizona Transplant Patients Plead With Jan Brewer To Reverse Life-Threatening Medicaid Cuts

Late last month, Mark Price, an Arizona father who had been battling leukemia for a year, died due to complications related to chemotherapy treatment he was receiving. Price had been awaiting a bone marrow transplant, but the state’s Medicaid program — Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) — had denied his application due to cuts to funding for transplant programs championed by Gov. Jan Brewer (R) and fellow Republicans. At the last minute, an anonymous donor came forward and offered to pay the $250,000 for the procedure, but by then it was too late.

Defending the decision to deny AHCCCS the money to pay for Price’s transplant, Brewer said that the “bottom line is that the state only has so much money and we can only provide so many optional kinds of care, and those are one of the options that we had to take” — implying that saving Price’s life was “optional.”

Yesterday, state Democratic lawmakers held a news conference where transplant patients pleaded with Brewer and the GOP-controlled legislature to restore the $1.4 million in funding that was cut to the transplant program. One patient, Randy Sheperd, a father of three, explained that he needed a heart transplant to continue to live. Taking aim at Brewer’s comments that only “optional kinds of care” were facing cuts, he said, “It’s not an option for us; it’s a necessity”:

Mesa resident Randy Shepherd, a 36-year-old father of three, has been living with a pacemaker for several years and now is facing what he says is his last treatment option: a heart transplant. But Shepherd’s hopes for a transplant were dashed when the state cut Medicaid funding for certain transplants under the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.


“Look at all of us who need these transplants,” Shepherd said, joined Tuesday by three others who say they are unable to get live-saving transplants due to the cuts. “It’s not an option for us; it’s a necessity.” […]

Tiffany Tate, 27, of Chandler, a volunteer high school basketball coach, said she was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a chronic lung disease, at age 2 now needs a lung transplant. Because she didn’t get the transplants before October, when the cuts took effect, the funding for her transplant was been removed. “The state needs to come together so we can have a second chance at life,” Tate said. “I want to travel, to play basketball again. It would mean everything to me.”

Last night, CBS News interviewed Tate about the predicament she is in following the state’s decision to cut back on transplant funding. “I am scared to know that I won’t get [a transplant],” she told CBS News, choking up. “And if I don’t get it, I’m going to die.” Watch it:

For their part, the Republican lawmakers who control the legislature appear unconvinced that there is a need to reverse the cuts. “The transplant issue is being politicized by Democrats,” Rep. John Kavanagh (R) told Cronkite News Service. “In the middle of a terrible budget crisis, we need more data.”


ThinkProgress caught up with Brewer today (she was in D.C. for a Supreme Court case). We asked her about the transplant patient issue. At first she smiled at the question, but then went on to say that the “majority of people in Arizona are still able to get transplant funding” and that “Arizona has provided Cadillac insurance for Medicaid” unlike many other states. “Difficult decisions have to be made,” she concluded. Watch it: