A patient who was refused a liver transplant because of state budget cuts has died, Tucson's University Medical Center confirmed Wednesday.
The death was "most likely" due to the defunding of certain organ transplants that had been previously covered by the state's Medicaid program, said University of Arizona Surgery Department spokeswoman Jo Marie Gellerman.
She could not release any further information about the patient, who was taken off the waiting list Oct. 1 when Arizona stopped paying for certain organ transplants for patients covered by the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.
The patient did not die at UMC but had been waiting for a transplant at the Tucson hospital before being removed from the waiting list, Gellerman said. She said the patient died at another health-care facility.
The patient is the second person known to die after being denied a transplant due to the funding cuts. A 38-year-old Goodyear man on AHCCCS who was denied a bone-marrow transplant died in November.
Between 95 and 100 people who were waiting for transplants in Arizona were affected by the cuts.
AHCCCS officials stressed Wednesday that even without the funding cuts, not all the people on the waiting list would have received an organ. AHCCCS spokeswoman Monica Coury said the actual effect of the defunding would be 15 fewer transplants covered by AHCCCS per year.
There could be many reasons why a patient waiting for a transplant would die, Coury added.
"These people are sick. So many things can potentially go wrong," she said. "If 100 people are on the waiting list and only 15 get an organ, that's a fairly low percentage."
As of Oct. 1, the state cut funding for certain pancreas, lung, bone marrow, heart and liver transplants for adults on Medicaid (AHCCCS). Only patients with Hepatitis C are being refused liver transplants.
The coverage shortfall amounts to $4 million - about $1.4 million in state money and the rest in federal matching funds.
The transplant funding cuts have become a hot-button political issue in Arizona that has attracted national attention.
The incoming minority leader of the state Senate, Democrat David Schapira of Tempe, has prefiled proposed legislation to restore the transplant coverage this legislative session.
"It's time to put politics aside and restore the transplant funding," Schapira said Wednesday in a prepared statement. "Failure to restore this funding is a death sentence for people who have committed no crimes."
A consortium of leading transplant surgeons in Arizona has provided state leaders with new data on outcomes for the transplants affected, imploring them to reconsider the cuts.
Republican state Sen. Frank Antenori of Tucson told the Star earlier this week that if the data justifies it, there's a good chance the funding will be restored.
Some business leaders in Tucson and Phoenix are stepping in and trying to raise the money privately, saying they can't stand by and watch people die.
Several AHCCCS patients are also trying to raise money on their own. The family of a young Chandler woman has been holding fundraisers to get the $277,000 needed for her double lung transplant.
Coury said AHCCCS will pay for the after-care of patients who raise their own money to pay for a transplant.
Tucson resident and AHCCCS patient Benny Miranda, 39, has been "almost despondent" since he was taken off the waiting list for a double lung transplant, his wife said. Barbara Miranda said her husband had been on the waiting list for three years.
"He's trying to keep a strong faith," she said.
Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4134.