Businesses aim to fund transplants cut by state
|Leo Corbet Photo by: Benjie Sanders|
Dismayed by state cuts that took away funding for some organ transplants, a former Arizona legislator is calling on the state's business community to raise $4 million to cover the shortfall.
"I think the Legislature has been fed a bunch of baloney or worse on this," said Leo Corbet, who spent two terms as president of the Senate Republicans in the Legislature between 1978 and 1982 and was routed in 1982 when he tried to unseat then-Gov. Bruce Babbitt. He was in the Senate again in 1989 and 1990.
Corbet, who received a heart transplant at Tucson's University Medical Center in 2001, is protesting the state's decision to cut funding for some organ transplants that previously had been covered by the state's Medicaid program. As of Oct. 1, the state cut funding for certain pancreas, lung, bone marrow, heart and liver transplants for adults. The cuts amount to about $4 million a year and affect an estimated 95 to 100 Arizonans waiting for transplants.
Corbet, 74, is now president of the New Life Society, a Phoenix-based nonprofit organization that aims to raise awareness of organ transplants and offer support to transplant patients.
Working with some other business and community leaders, including former state Sen. Frank Felix, supermarket magnate Eddie Basha and Tucson heart-transplant recipient Nina Gibson, Corbet has set up a Wells Fargo Bank account called the "Transplant Assistance Project" for tax-deductible donations. The motto of the program is "Tomorrow Is Too Late."
"None of the money will go to administrative costs," Corbet stressed.
He said that even if the Legislature restores the funding in this session, it will still be too late for some patients. That's why he's calling on business leaders across the state to help out.
"Arizona shouldn't be defined by what they don't like, but by who they are," said Corbet, who plans on a public announcement of the program next week. "Arizonans are a wildly independent bunch, but also a caring bunch. I don't think once they know the problem that they are going to be sitting around on their hands. They probably will do this."
Corbet said he was one of the main sponsors of legislation to create the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System program, or AHCCCS, the state's form of Medicaid.
"We're going to go wherever we can to promote this," he said of the Transplant Assistance Project. "It's a community problem that has to be solved. It's not a partisan issue."
Some of the more public cases of those affected by the transplant cuts include Tucson resident David Hernandez, a 48-year-old father of five and a former heavy-equipment operator who has been denied the lung transplant he needs to stay alive.
Tiffany Tate, a 27-year-old Chandler resident who is waiting for a double lung transplant at UMC, is another patient who is affected. Tate has cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition that is attacking her lungs.
Tate's family has been raising money to cover her transplant, which will cost an estimated $277,000. She'll need money for after-care, too.
"If I don't get the transplant, I will die," said Tate, whose lungs are functioning at 25 percent capacity. "It would be amazing if we could get the $4 million raised, but are we going to have to do it every single year? For all those people getting evaluated now who may need transplants in the future, what happens to them?"
State Rep. Steve Farley, a Tucson Democrat, predicts that as long as the public continues to put pressure on the Legislature, the funding has a good chance of being restored.
"I honestly don't think Republicans have intended for people to die. Hopefully, they will act appropriately," Farley said. "I believe budgets are moral documents. If we don't think it's important to save lives, I don't know what it says about us as a state. We cannot depend on a piecemeal approach where people have to go hat in hand to the private sector."
Farley said there are places where the state could easily find $4 million, such as cutting tax breaks to corporate special interests.
State Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, said House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Kavanagh, a Republican from Fountain Hills, is reviewing new data on transplant outcomes.
"If the funding is restored, it will be because the data justifies it," Antenori said.
He commended Corbet for stepping in.
"I applaud this guy. This is charity at its finest, and it's what Americans are known for. The government is not in the charity business."
Docs lobby for funds
A group of leading Arizona surgeons has formed a consortium that will lobby to reinstate the budget cuts that are preventing some Medicaid patients from getting organ transplants.
Doctors from University Medical Center in Tucson, the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, and Banner Good Samaritan and St. Joseph's hospitals in Phoenix have come up with an alternative plan to cutting transplant funding. The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System - Arizona's form of Medicaid - stopped funding certain transplants on Oct. 1.
By eliminating some screening tests for transplant candidates, doctors say the state could save enough money to restore the organ-transplant funding, said Dr. Rainer Gruessner, chief of abdominal transplantation at UMC.
"It's not that the physicians aren't aware of the current budget crisis that we're in," Gruessner said. "We realize that we have to come up with an alternative plan where the government can still save the money that they need to save."
Gruessner said the evidence that AHCCCS used in recommending the cuts to the Legislature was outdated. For example, it's no longer valid to say that hepatitis C patients have worse outcomes for liver transplants than non-hepatitis C patients, Gruessner said. Patients with hepatitis C on AHCCCS are no longer funded for liver transplants. AHCCCS officials say they used outcome data as a guide when making the recommended cuts.
Unless something changes, about 15 to 20 patients at UMC will not get transplants this year because of the defunding, he said.
How to help
Tax-deductible donations to the "Transplant Assistance Project" can be made at any Arizona Wells Fargo Bank branch.