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They’re not political pawns; they’re sick people being used as pawns.

And that is sick.

Gov. Jan Brewer and the Republican-controlled legislature say that it’s all about the huge budget deficits facing the state, $825 million this year and $1.4 billion next.

The governor says that she won’t consider restoring transplant services to the seriously ill patients previously covered under the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System until the black hole in the budget is plugged.

That’s not an answer, it’s a ploy. It’s a political chess move with dying people as pawns.

The governor’s death panel will save roughly $1.4 million this year by cutting transplant services. That’s $1.4 million in an overall budget of roughly $9 BILLION.

To suggest that we need to kill people because we can’t find $1.4 million to cut from a $9 billion budget is not only cruel, it’s insulting.

But then, this is not a new game.

Some members of the legislature have been trying to eliminate aspects of the AHCCCS transplant coverage for years.

Back in the early 1990s I wrote about a woman named Sharon Townsend.

She was a good, hard-working woman who got sick and needed a bone-marrow transplant.

AHCCCS didn’t cover it. Townsend was eligible for Social Security Disability Income, but there was a waiting period of two years before she would be eligible for Medicare.

Some health professionals suggested that AHCCCS could be a “bridge” for patients like Townsend.

But Arizona legislators argued against it on philosophical grounds, saying that the state simply couldn’t afford to cover everyone.

The argument demonstrated a lack of both humanity and math skills.

The seriously ill people who are cut off from transplant lists, or who don’t qualify, don’t simply go away. They stay here. And if they wind up indigent, as many do, we pay for their care.

The cost of the transplant that Townsend needed was about $130,000 in the early ‘90s. After she died, the men and women who cared for her added up what it cost the state to slowly watch her die. It was $750,000.

Over the years I’ve spoken to a number of people who work in the transplant field.

One social worker told me something a while back that still applies today. He said, “The people who benefit from these transplant services are people who were working, paying taxes, being good citizens and then got sick and lost everything. They’re us.”

There are a number of people trying to get the governor and the current legislature to change their minds about AHCCCS transplants.

One is Leo Corbett, a former state senator and one-time Republican candidate for governor. Corbett is a heart-transplant recipient.

“I’ve heard the term ‘political capital’ come up in this discussion and I just don’t understand it,” he told me Wednesday. “This is about life and death. And people. And doing what is right. I’m hopeful that we’ll all be able to come together and work something out.”

During the last legislative session when the transplant cuts were being discussed, I spoke with one of the 100 or so individuals who would lose coverage. A husband and father.

“I can’t work anymore and we ran out of (insurance) coverage a while back,” he told me. “It’s terrible needing help. It’s not what I wanted. But when you run out of money, what can you do? If I don’t get a transplant, I guess the state won’t have to pay for me or worry about me until I walk into an emergency room close to dying. They can’t turn me away then.”

(Column for Dec. 12, 2010, Arizona Republic)

Thursday, December 9, 2010 at 10:20 PM

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