A leukemia patient’s death probably could have been avoided if Arizona hadn’t suspended Medicaid coverage for some transplants for six months, a transplant doctor says.
Dr. Jeffrey Schriber said 31-year-old James Johnson of Phoenix likely could have obtained a bone-marrow transplant within weeks late last fall were it not for the coverage cutoff that began Oct. 1 under a state budget cut approved earlier last year.
The state Medicaid program retroactively restored coverage retroactively to April 1 on Thursday, a day after Gov. Jan Brewer signed a new state budget Wednesday evening.
The budget, which Brewer negotiated with Republican legislative leaders, authorized her administration to make unspecified changes to the Medicaid program and stated that lawmakers wanted transplant coverage restored.
Johnson’s mother, Jeannie Johnson, said her son died Wednesday morning after being hospitalized five days earlier.
Schriber said it wasn’t thought that Johnson needed a transplant until after Oct. 1 so he wouldn’t have been among the approximately 100 people whom state officials said last fall were no longer eligible for coverage.
Two of those people subsequently died. One died of complications of preparations for a transplant that was to have been privately funded through a donation provided after the state cutoff. The second involved a person whose death hospital officials probably resulted from the cutoff.
Johnson “is someone we would have certainly transplanted and who I suspect could have benefited,” Schriber said. “He is clearly someone who paid the price for this particular delay.”
Democratic legislators and transplant advocates criticized the coverage cutoff, calling it cold-hearted and unnecessary.
Brewer and Republican legislators stood by their decision for months, with the governor insisting that restoration of coverage had to be part of larger changes to the Medicaid program.
Brewer on March 31 submitted a package of cost-cutting changes to the federal government, proposing that enrollment in the 1.3 million-person program be gradually reduced by approximately 138,000 people through enrollment freezes.
Coverage would have had to been restored months ago to save her son because they learned in February that his cancer was spreading she said.
However, back in the fall, “things were looking very hopeful,” she said. “Then he could have had a chance.”
The mother said she was unaware that the state had restored coverage earlier this month. “I never had a problem telling anyone that the governor of our state and the legislative people that work with her were playing God,” she said.
Brewer spokesman Matt Benson did not immediately respond to telephone and email requests for comment.