Medicaid Cuts Could Doom AZ Transplant Patients

It's not just the federal government that's having money trouble these days. Forty-eight states cut their Medicaid budgets this year. And in Arizona, the fear is that pressure to save money could cost lives, reports CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy.

Tiffany Tate always thought of herself as a jock. She was the point guard on her high school basketball team. They won the state title twice. Now Tate can barely breathe. She's 27.

The cystic fibrosis she was born with has killed off 75 percent of her lungs. In April the state sent her a letter. She made the list for a double lung transplant.

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Transplant Taken Away

"I felt so good about getting my transplant and I was excited and I was planning for it," says Tate.

Four months later she got a different letter. Tate reads from it, "You cannot get this service because state law eliminated this type of transplant."

When asked how she felt when received that letter, Tate says, "Crushed." She tears up. "I'm scared to know that I won't get it and if I don't get it, I'm going to die."

As of October, Arizona's version of Medicaid no longer pays for certain organ transplants for low income patients. They cost more than $200,000 and the state says too often they aren't successful. The cuts will save Arizona $1.4 million, one-tenth of one percent of its $825 million budget deficit.

"The state has only so much money and we can only provide so many optional kinds of care," says Gov. Jan Brewer (R).

Tuesday state Democrats rallied with patients who have been kicked off the transplant list. They accuse the governor and Republican legislature - who passed the cuts - of creating a death panel.

When asked if it's hyperbole to say "You're killing people," State Rep. Chad Campbell (D) says, "No, not at all. These people are not going to get the organs they need. That is a fact."

Ninety-eight people who were waiting for transplants will not get them unless they pay for it themselves. Francisco Felix was already prepped for his liver transplant surgery when doctors told the 32-year-old father of four they couldn't do it unless he had $200,000.

Now some top Republicans in Arizona say there were given bad information by the State's Medicaid office and that some of these transplants may be more effective than they were led to believe. Bottom line: This has become so controversial the legislature plans to reconsider the issue in January.

Tiffany Tate still has hope. "I'm going to fight until I take my last breath," she says.

Even if the fight gets tougher every day.

  • Ben Tracy

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