Francisco Felix was prepped to get a new lifesaving liver at a Phoenix hospital Nov. 16, but returned home a couple hours later without the surgery.
The 32-year-old Phoenix resident is one of dozens of Arizona patients who need liver transplants but can’t get them because of budget cuts to the state’s Medicaid system. The new cuts mean patients who get medical coverage from the state’s Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS, will not get liver transplants if they have Hepatitis C.
Coverage for bone-marrow transplants involving non-relatives and some heart transplants also has been eliminated.
Felix and the other patients were notified that the funding would stop Oct. 1 and that if they wanted transplants, they’d need to find another resource to pay for the surgeries, which can cost up to $500,000.
Felix, a married father of two, found some hope Monday when his friend’s wife died and their family wanted him to get her liver, but the clock was ticking.
Felix was admitted to the hospital Monday night and prepped for surgery just in case funding came through by 10 a.m. Tuesday, said Bill Byron, a spokesman for Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center.
Because livers are only viable for a short time and funding for Felix’s surgery didn’t come through, the liver went to the next patient in line who had coverage, he said.
“I felt sad for my wife’s friend because she died, but I also felt a little hope to continue living,” Felix told The Associated Press in Spanish shortly after he was discharged from the hospital. “The laws here in Arizona are very sad. A lot of people like me are going to die.”
Byron said it’s rare to prep a patient for surgery who doesn’t have coverage, but because Felix had a matching donor, the hospital wanted to give him the chance just in case.
He said Felix is one of 22 other patients at the hospital who need liver transplants but won’t get them because of the AHCCCS cuts.
“As we looked at this situation we could not look at it as a single person; you had to look at it in terms of all 23 individuals in the same situation,” he said. “And when you look at the cost, you’re looking at $12.5 million to $13.5 million, and we cannot bear those costs for that many patients.”
He said Felix faces death if he doesn’t get a liver transplant in the next two years.
“Of course I’m afraid,” Felix said. “I’m afraid of leaving my family alone.”
AHCCCS spokeswoman Jennifer Carusetta said the cuts affect about 100 people who may need transplants statewide, but added that only about 15 percent of patients are likely to get a transplant in any event.
“Just because they’re on the list does not mean that there will be a match,” she said.
The benefit cuts implemented in October by AHCCCS were included in the budget the Legislature and Republican Gov. Jan Brewer approved last spring.
Transplant centers had lobbied the Republican-led Legislature to meet in special session to temporarily restore the transplant funding, but that never happened.
Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said the state faced huge cost burdens from federal mandates widening who is eligible for the Medicaid program, and was forced to cut some transplants deemed by the federal government as optional.
“When you can’t afford what the federal government is mandating, how can you possibly afford what the federal government presents as optional?” he said.
Democratic state Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Phoenix worked to notify media members of Felix’s story on Tuesday after his family called her asking for help the night before.
“I want people to hear his story so he can get his transplant,” she said, adding that she hopes an outside donor comes forward with funding. “It’s really important that the public continues to hear the fact that the Legislature chose to cut these funds knowing people would die.”