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Governor says transplant funding restored

Governor says transplant funding restored

CREATED Apr 5, 2011

Reporter: Craig Smith
Web Producer: Layla Tang

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - The debate over how to pay for Arizona's Medicaid programs has been one of the most emotional debates at the State Capitol.

Last year's budget cut low-income people out of state funding for life-saving organ transplants.  Now that lawmakers have passed this year's budget, there's debate over whether transplants are covered or not.  Whether that money's restored depends on whether you ask Republicans or Democrats.

But lawmakers made huge cuts to other parts of the state health care system that go far beyond transplants.  To balance the budget, state lawmakers needed to cut $1.1 Billion.  They knocked out almost half of that-- $511 million by reducing AHCCS, Arizona's version of Medicaid.  One of the biggest ways to make cuts was by freezing new enrollments from low income, single adults.  Hospitals like Tucson Medical Center say that will cost the hospital more than $20 million in payments--enough to require about 200 layoffs.

Do you anticipate more demand and then fewer people to actually handle that demand?" KGUN 9 Reporter Craig Smith asked TMC Spokesperson Julia Strange.

"Absolutely.  The emergency department will become the de facto site for primary care for the population that are going to be losing their coverage.  So, there will be increased demand for the emergency department where we'll have fewer staff because of the revenue cuts," Strange explained.  And that could leave the rest of the population paying more, if hospitals have to absorb treatment costs for people too poor to pay.

Restoring state money for medical transplants has been one of the most emotional issues this session.  The decision to knock low income Arizonans off the transplant list brought the state criticism from around the country.

Republicans say the budget restored transplant funding, but Democrats who pushed for transplant assistance say the budget makes a vague statement about covering transplants that it doesn't back up with money.

"It's very frustrating to see right now that many are claiming that it is, many are claiming that it's not.  But patients, the clarification for patients is when they get that letter in their hands saying they're back on the transplant list." Democratic State Representative Anna Tovar said.

9 On Your Side called Governor's spokesman, Matt Benson, to pin down the answer.

"The question's been raised whether transplants are truly restored in the budget, yes or no?" Smith asked.

"Yes," Benson answered.  "Transplant procedures have been restored as part of the budget and it's effectively immediately upon the Governor's signature."

Some of the Medicaid changes require federal approval, but Benson said there's enough savings in other parts of the Medicaid cuts to cover the transplants.  He added that if federal officials reject the Governor's Medicaid revisions, a lot of negotiation will ensue with federal authorities and a new plan will emerge. Exactly how that will affect the budget will have to wait for what sorts out.