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Transplant hopefuls appeal to GOP to restore Medicaid funds

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PHOENIX – Mesa resident Randy Shepherd, a 36-year-old father of three, has been living with a pacemaker for several years and now is facing what he says is his last treatment option: a heart transplant.

But Shepherd's hopes for a transplant were dashed when the state cut Medicaid funding for certain transplants under the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

"Look at all of us who need these transplants," Shepherd said, joined Tuesday by three others who say they are unable to get live-saving transplants due to the cuts. "It's not an option for us; it's a necessity."

Democratic lawmakers brought in the group for a news conference to demand a special session to reinstate the $1.4 million transplant program. They blamed Gov. Jan Brewer, who has the authority to call a special session, for keeping new organs out of the reach of those whose survival hangs in the balance.

Tiffany Tate, 27, of Chandler, a volunteer high school basketball coach, said she was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a chronic lung disease, at age 2 now needs a lung transplant. Because she didn't get the transplants before October, when the cuts took effect, the funding for her transplant was been removed.

"The state needs to come together so we can have a second chance at life," Tate said. "I want to travel, to play basketball again. It would mean everything to me."

Incoming Senate Minority Leader David Schapira, D-Tempe, along with Rep. Anna Tovar, D-Tolleson, Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix, and Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said the AHCCCS's funding for organ transplants for Medicaid patients should have taken priority over a recent $20 million renovation to the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum roof or a $2 million grant for algae research.

"The governor has the power to save lives," Schapira said. "This is an urgent matter that must be dealt with immediately. There are 97 people out there who can't wait for the legislative session to begin. They need this approved today."

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Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said the governor likely won't call a special session until she receives a funding proposal for either the reinstatement of the transplant program or the $1 billion shortfall for Medicaid.

Senseman said roughly 30 percent of state's fiscal 2011 budget is reserved for Medicaid, up from 18 percent in fiscal 2007. He said the state is struggling to meet federal mandates and that the some of the transplant program was cut because it wasn't mandatory under federal guidelines.

"Arizona is not the only state in the union that does not provide for all transplants," Senseman said. "We have almost no flexibility at all by the federal government to create the Medicaid we want. … We're looking for that flexibility."

John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a telephone interview that Republicans are waiting on more data – on bone marrow transplants, pancreas transplants and heart transplants – before reinstating the funding.

"The transplant issue is being politicized by Democrats," Kavanagh said. "In the middle of a terrible budget crisis, we need more data."

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Dec 7, 2010, 10:19 pm
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Thanks for that, um, interesting contribution to the conversation, Ward. Sorry, but your spam link to an insurance company was removed.

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Rebecca L. McClay/Cronkite News Service

Mesa resident Randy Shepherd, a 36-year-old father of three, says his life hangs in the balance as the governor and GOP leaders decide whether to hold a special session to restore funding that would allow him to have a heart transplant under Arizona’s Medicaid system.

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