State budget cuts being called a death sentence for many - Tucson News Now

State budget cuts being called a death sentence for many Arizonans

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By Barbara Grijalva - email

TUCSON, AZ (KOLD) - How much is a human life worth?

AHCCCS--the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System--is slashing life-saving coverage for tens of thousands of people.

State lawmakers ordered the cuts and Arizonans will feel the pain from head to toe.

Like this: Starting October 1, Arizona's version of Medicaid no longer covers most dental care for adults.

Going further down the body, lung transplants, pancreas transplants and some heart transplants are also dropped for anyone over 21. The same goes for microprocessor-controlled prosthetics legs and for foot and ankle care done by podiatrists.

The cuts are potentially devastating for people with diseases as different as cancer and diabetes.

Arizona's recession has put more people on Arizona's health care system for the poor. At the same time, the state is dealing with a budget crisis.

It might just seem like a bunch of numbers, but behind the legislature's cost-cutting there is a human toll.

University Medical Center doctors say Arizonans will die because the health care they need has been slashed from the budget.

53-year-old Tucsonan Manny Cazares needs heart transplant, and has a message for the legislature and his fellow Arizonans.

"I want them to understand that we're people. We're human beings," he says.

Cazares says he and many others have been handed a death sentence.

Cazares is a chef and worked his whole life. He's so sick, he can't work anymore, but now Arizona's health care plan for the poor will no longer pay for the transplant that will keep him alive, and let him get back to his job.

"I've been on the transplant list for two-and-a-half years. Now I'm off. There's really not much I can do," Cazares says.

Transplant specialists in Tucson say there already is a national outcry about what's happening in Arizona as legislators cut the budget.

"The solution that we currently have is discriminatory against certain groups of patients," says University of Arizona Department of Surgery Chairman Dr. Rainer Gruessner.

Dr. Gruessner says the state never consulted Arizona transplant specialists about the cuts.

They do have a way to cut costs without condemning patients to death. They would cut out some diagnostic tests.

Dr. Gruessner says it would not be ideal, but, "by doing so we still would be able to transplant the patients that are currently being considered for being eliminated."

But nobody bothered to ask Gruessner and his colleagues.

Here's another budget cut that could have devastating consequences. Patients, even those with diabetes, no longer will be allowed to see a podiatrist to prevent foot sores that can lead to amputation.

University Professor Surgery Dr. David Armstrong says, "In this case, prevention really does pay."  

He says, "The most common reason people with diabetes will end up in hospital is not for high blood sugar or heart attack or a stroke. It's for their foot."

Consider this. It costs from $75 to $100 for a once-a-year visit with a podiatrist who can prevent a dangerous diabetic foot sore.

Amputation can cost up to $100,000.

And there's the human cost.

"When a person with diabetes loses a leg, half of these patients are dead in five years," Dr. Armstrong says.

Dr. Armstrong says an annual visit with a podiatrist reduces the risk of amputation by upwards of two-thirds. 

Dr. Gruessner says up to 35 Arizonans who need an organ transplant will die each year because of the new regulations.

Human cost. There's no line for that in the budget.

"Just not being able to see my grandkids grow up..."

Manny Cazares can't finish what he wants to say. He has lowered his head and begun silently crying.

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