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Patient Cut From Transplant List Dies: Arizona's Death Panel?

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PHOENIX (CBS/AP) A second person cut from the transplant list has died in Arizona. The death "most likely" resulted from the state's refusal to pay for certain transplants, a hospital spokeswoman said Wednesday.

"His condition has gotten more severe since he was taken off the list," said University Medical Center spokeswoman Jo Marie Gellerman.

The patient's worsening condition would have elevated his place on the liver donor list, she added. But the point was moot.

The patient could not afford the transplant and Arizona refused to pay for it. Arizona reduced Medicaid coverage for transplants on Oct. 1 under cuts included to help close a shortfall in the state budget enacted last spring.

Gellerman said the patient died Dec. 28. He had hepatitis C. Medical privacy requirements prevented the release of any information about the patient.

This is the second death linked to Arizona's controversial cost cutting. Last November, the Associated Press and others told the story of Mark Price, a Phoenix-area man desperately in need of a bone-marrow transplant. He couldn't afford it and state's Medcaid program wasn't angling to pay for it.

After the press coverage, anonymous donors offered to pay for the transplant, but Price died from complications in preparation for the surgery.

"I don't want to get into any of the politics involved in it, but it backfired because now suddenly it looks as if Arizona is making decisions as to life or death of patients," said Dr. Rainer Gruessner, chair of the University of Arizona Surgery Department

He predicts that nearly 30 Arizonans will die this year because of the state's decision to cut certain transplants.

"Failure to restore this funding is a death sentence for people who have committed no crimes," he said.

The state hopes to save $1.4 million from the transplant cuts. Arizona faces a projected $1.4 billion shortfall in its next state budget. 

There is a certain irony here.

During last year's federal battle over President Obama's health care legislation, some Republicans claimed his program promoted "death panels" which they seemed to suggest would involve government bureaucrats deciding who lives and who dies.

The health care bill did include language which paid doctors to offer end-of-life counseling. That was eventually removed.

Facing a tough budget situation, however, Arizona has instituted what critics say is much closer to these so-called "death panels" than anything that ever appeared in the federal government's health care legislation.

"Can this really be happening in the United States?" Forbes columnist Rick Ungar wrote. "I cannot help but be struck by the emptiness of the argument put forth by those who suggest that government need not look out for these people because charitable Americans will always step up and help in these circumstances."

"It's something that probably needs to be discussed," Gov. Brewer said of the difficult choices. "Evey body is concerned about it, as I am. The bottom line is ... that was one of those areas that we could cut and we moved forward on that."

Ninety-seven people remain on Arizona's Medcaire transaplnt list. Their futures are uncertain.

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