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Arizona man who lost transplant coverage dies

A Phoenix man who was denied state Medicaid coverage for a bone marrow transplant has died, a development that renewed debate over health care budget cuts, though one of Mark Price’s doctors said the death was not caused by the financial situation.

A private donor had come forward to pay for a transplant for Price, and transplant Dr. Jeffrey Schriber said Price’s death on Sunday resulted from complications from his leukemia and its treatment.

Price had learned of two donors who were matches on Oct. 1, the same day that Arizona budget cuts for some transplants took effect.

Price faced the challenges of his situation “with courage and dignity,” Schriber said Monday.

Democratic legislators later Monday called on Gov. Jan Brewer and majority Republicans to reverse the transplant coverage cuts because of the lives at stake.

“This is outrageous,” said Rep. Anna Tovar, D-Tolleson. “Hopefully this will be the wake-up call for Gov. Brewer and Republicans to finally act.”

Tovar said Brewer could use $30 million of unspent federal stimulus money to reverse the cuts, but Brewer later said that money is already allocated for other programs.

Brewer said Price’s death was a “tragedy.”

“It’s just an unfortunate situation and my heart goes to his family and certainly to his five children,” she said. “The bottom line is the state only has so much money and we can only provide so much optional types of care and those were one of the options that we had taken liberty to discard, to dismiss.”

While the cuts to transplant coverage eliminated one type of care provided those enrolled in the state Medicaid program, Brewer also said Arizona needs flexibility under both state and federal law to stop providing Medicaid coverage altogether for hundreds of thousands of people.

Brewer said holding a special election to ask state voters to roll back a 2000 eligibility expansion for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System is an option being considered.

But Brewer said the state also needs relief from the federal health care overhaul’s prohibition against rollbacks of eligibility for Medicaid programs.

Additional federal funding for Medicaid provided under the federal stimulus program runs out by the June 30 end of the current fiscal year, and Brewer said Arizona’s budget troubles mean the state cannot afford to continue paying its share of the expense for providing care for the more than 300,000 people covered by the 2000 expansion.

Additional federal Medicaid funding that Arizona will get under the health care overhaul won’t kick for several years.

Brewer originally proposed reducing AHCCCS’ enrollment in her January budget proposal, and the Legislature approved the reduction several months later after concluding that it wouldn’t need to be submitted to voters. However, they reversed the cut when Congress passed the federal health care overhaul.

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