The news that Gov. Brewer and Arizona Senate Republicans have restored transplant funding to the state budget may have brought a bit of hope and relief to the over 90 people counting on Medicaid support to help them pay for life-saving operations, but until these desperate patients hold letters in their hands which guarantee their spots on the transplant list, their lives still hang in the balance.
After a months-long, controversial debate over the topic of transplant funding, which had been axed from Arizona’s AHCCCS program last year, Brewer announced that coverage for lung, liver, pancreas and heart transplants had been reinstated. Two patients have died while waiting for this decision, and though Brewer and other Republican lawmakers have reiterated that the return of funding is unequivocal, there are some who warn of conditions.
“According to what the governor and other Republicans are touting, yes, they’re celebrating the funds being put back in. But what they’re saying isn’t necessarily the case. The funding is based on conditions, contingent on a waiver of approval by the federal government until funding is restored. The same way they took it out, they should have put it back in,” said Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix over the phone last week. The caveat has been raised by Landrum Taylor and others because the budget does not make is explicitly clear how these operations will be paid for under AHCCCS, only that they are once again eligible.
If Republicans can be believed, however, this news gives hope back to people such as 48-year-old David Hernandez, a Tucson resident who needs a double lung transplant. Hernandez was diagnosed with an interstitial lung disease in 2010 and told he needed both lungs replaced or that he would die in 3 years. The cause of his condition isn’t certain, but is suspected to relate to his work in the heavy construction industry, where he was exposed to asbestos. The National Transplant Assistance Fund is heavily involved in cases such as Hernandez, and helps in fundraising efforts.
Hernandez has deteriorated in the last year, and remembers the letter he received in August 2010 telling him he would not be getting his transplant. The father of five, who used to coach his daughter’s softball team and worked out regularly at the gym, now spends most of his days bedridden, hooked to an oxygen tank. He says that a seventy year old with emphysema could outrun him, and that every small movement he takes is a painful endeavor.
He sees new hope in Brewer’s decision to restore the funding, but until he receives a physical letter assuring him of his status, he says he will be holding his breath.