By Barbara Grijalva - email
Tucson, AZ (KOLD) - Backlash is building over cuts to Arizona's Medicaid program that critics say amount to a death sentence.
The state slashed funding last fall for many different types of organ transplants and bone marrow transplants for people 21 and older.
There are a lot of people, from all over the country, working from several different angles to keep people from dying needlessly.
From the University of Arizona and University Medical Center to private groups, there are efforts to bring back transplants for Arizona adults on the state's version of Medicaid: The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment system, or AHCCCS.
Nina Roosevelt Gibson lives near Tucson.
"It's incredibly sad and really doesn't have to happen," she says.
Gibson is talking about the Arizonans sentence to death because the budget cuts forced them off transplant lists.
Gibson is the granddaughter of President Franklin Roosevelt, and has the family genetic mutation that leads to heart failure.
Her daughter has the same mutation and is now waiting for a heart transplant.
10 years ago Gibson got her new heart at Tucson's University Medical Center.
Now she's working with the New Life Society to try to raise awareness and money for transplants.
"The long range plan is to work with Health and Human Services at the federal level to change the policies and procedures for Medicare organ recipients," Gibson says.
As for the short term, the New Life Society and transplant doctors in Arizona believe they can save money the state needs to save, and still keep people from dying.
"We all understand the pinch the state is in, however, I believe there are other ways," she says.
That's exactly what doctors at University Medical Center believe, if legislators would only hear what the Arizona experts have to say.
Dr. Rainer Gruessner is the University of Arizona Surgery Department Chairman.
He says, "We are the advocates of the patients. If we don't raise our voice, who will do it for a patient with end stage disease."
Gruessner says transplant specialists have come up with a way to cut costs and save lives, making tough decisions that are fair.
"What this policy has not included is a component of fairness to the patients," Gruessner says.
Though the state never consulted Arizona doctors before making the cuts, the transplant specialists are trying to keep a dialogue open with the legislature and the health department.
"I don't want to get into any of the politics involved in it, but it backfired because now suddenly it looks as if Arizona is making decisions as to life or death of patients," Gruessner says.
Gruessner says nearly 30 Arizonans will die this year because of the state's decision to cut certain transplants.
"The most important thing, again, is to continue the dialogue so that we don't leave fellow citizens behind," Gruessner says.
Nina Roosevelt Gibson knows exactly what that means for people waiting for a life-saving transplant.
"Time is of the essence. They don't have time," she says.
Some already have run out of time.
Dr. Gruessner says, just in the past week, another patient died waiting for a transplant.
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