March 7, 2011

Arizona Medicaid Recipients Face State Budget Cuts

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has cut off funding for some organ transplants claiming the southwest state needs to reduce the 2012 budget deficit projected at $1.15 billion. Enacted in October by Brewer, the measure trims spending on Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program, Reuters reports.

The measure eliminated coverage for transplants including lung, heart, liver and bone marrow after weighing the success and survival rates for certain transplant procedures. Two patients on the Medicaid waiting list have since died, although it's not certain that transplants would have saved them.

Even with a pacemaker and defibrillator, carpenter Douglas Gravagna has difficulty rising from the couch of his Phoenix-valley home. It is not congestive heart failure that is killing him, he says. It is Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and her budget cuts. "She's signing death warrants -- that's what she's doing. This is death for me," Gravagna, who takes 14 medications to stay alive, told reuters reporter Tim Gaynor.

Gravagna, along with 98 other people denied state Medicaid funding for potentially life-saving transplants, is at the front of the battle over the state's public finances. Medicaid covers about 60 million American, poor adults and children and people who are elderly or have disabilities. It is one of the top expenses for states.

"At the deficit's core is the explosive growth in Medicaid spending which, over the last four years, has soared by almost 65 percent and now consumes 29 percent of our state budget," the Governor explained. "If we are to regain control of state spending, we must reform Medicaid and free Arizona from the fiscal manipulation of the federal government."

Sixteen percent of state budgets are Medicaid expenses, says Judith Solomon at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Medicaid pays for more than 40 percent of all births in the United States and is the primary bill-payer for nearly two-thirds of the country's nursing home residents, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Brewer's proposal would drop about 250,000 Arizonans, most of them childless adults from Medicaid rolls. The majority of states are not planning on dropping the health coverage as the new federal health reform law requires that they maintain current Medicaid coverage.

Arizona, however, has been given the go ahead from the US Health and Human Services Department because the state is providing it through a temporary waiver, and the new law does not require its extension.

Opponents however, including state Democrats and families of desperately sick patients like Gravagna with several doctors claim savings can be made without putting lives in jeopardy. "There are other places to make cuts. We've cut taxes on the very rich, we have corporate tax loopholes," said Bruce Madison, a heart transplant recipient and doctor who spoke at a rally to restore transplant funding in Phoenix on Saturday.

Democratic State Representative Anna Tovar, also a former kindergarten teacher, received two transplants to combat a rare form of leukemia. She tells Reuters that Arizona stands to lose more than $3 million a year in federal matching funds for Medicaid to save $1.4 million a year by restricting transplants.

"When you look at the big scheme of things, saving $1.4 million for 96 lives is not money well spent," said Tovar, who has introduced four bills seeking to restore Medicaid funding for transplants.


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