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Death Panels

By Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman
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Arizona, like many other states, has a budget shortfall and is making deep cuts to social services to balance their budget. The Republican controlled Arizona legislature passed a bill this past spring that was signed into law by the governor prescribing deep funding cuts for health care. The result is that Arizona’s version of Medicaid, Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), had to pare back coverage and stop covering new enrollees who would qualify for services. In cutting coverage, AHCCCS has told 98 people who had already been approved for transplants that they will no longer be getting a transplant because there isn’t enough money anymore.

Francisco Felix is a 32 year old man with Hepatitis C who needs a liver transplant to survive and was approved for the procedure by ACHHHS. But on October 1 the new budget cuts went into effect which meant that his transplant would no longer be covered. On November 15th a match was found for him and he was told that if he could come up with $200,000 by the next morning he could have the liver transplant. He couldn’t come up with the money and so he was sent home with his failing liver intact.

Randy Shepherd is a 36 year old man with cardiomyopathy whose heart is so weak that he can only throw a baseball a few feet while sitting. AHCCCS approved him for a heart transplant over a year ago and he has been on the waiting list since then. But now, because of the budget cuts he has been taken off of the transplant list and the only way he can get his transplant is if he pays for it. With a price tag of close to $1 million he has no option but to wait and hope his heart holds out long enough for him to qualify for Medicare next year due to his disability.

These are people who were told that they would receive life saving transplants and so led their increasingly difficult lives with hope for a better future. But when budgets needed to be balanced legislators found it easier to cut desperately needed services for the sickest and condemn them to death rather than raise taxes or cut non-essential services to cover the shortfall. When citizens renege on a promise to pay the government it’s called ‘tax fraud’. When politicians renege on promises to their constituents and let them die it’s called ‘making tough choices’. For making the most cruel and immoral of choices, the Arizona legislature and governor have distinguished themselves as being the true Death Panel.

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