Transplant patients fight for funding

Transplant patients fight for funding

CREATED Jun 30, 2011

Reporter:  Jessica Chapin
Web Producer: Layla Tang

TUCSON (KGUN9- TV) - Nearly 100 Arizona transplant patients fear they may be running out of time to get life-saving surgeries since the state cut funding to Medicaid patients in October.

The patients, their families, and other supporters are pleading with Arizona leaders to come up with $1.5 million in funding, saying it's a tiny fraction of the state budget that would free up Federal matching funds for transplants.  For people like Lois Tate, whose 27-year-old daughter needs new lungs, the funding is priceless.

"Her quality of life is dwindling away and her only hope to live longer was to get a transplant and that has been taken away from her," said Tate.  Her daughter Tiffany made the transplant list in April.  Just a few months later, funding for her surgery was cut from ACCCHS patients because of state budget cuts.

Fortunately, the Tates were able to raise money for the operation themselves, with the help of charity organizations and donors.  Tate continues to speak out on behalf of the transplant patients who are still waiting.

"We will not give up fighting for this because we believe it's the right thing to do until they get it changed," said Tate.  She's one of several people who helped put together a proposal of alternative funding solutions and sent it to Governor Brewer's office.

The plan suggested taking funds from either unclaimed lottery money, the state's AIG settlement, or a canceled animal bridge project.  So far, Tate has not received any response.

"We want to say to them take another look at different areas where we can come up with the money to restore these transplants," she told KGUN9 News.

9 On Your Side took her questions to the governor's office.  Three phone-calls and an email met no response.  9 On Your Side then presented the options to state Sen. Frank Antenori.

He said two of the three funding options have potential.  Unclaimed lottery money or money from the AIG suit could be a possibility, according to Antenori.  However, the canceled bridge funding idea would not work because the money came from the federal government and was returned when Arizona nixed the project.  But Antenori said even if dollars were available, the risky procedures wouldn't be worth taking money from other programs.

"The funding reduction occurred because data showed the outcome from providing funding to these patients was negligible," he said.  "If the data says these people could have an increase in life and longevity if they get the transplant, I don't see why we couldn't restore the funding."

So far, the state has not seen that data.  9 On Your Side's Jessica Chapin asked Antenori what he would say to Lois Tate.

"I wish we had the money and it was flowing from the hills of Arizona to fund everything we wanted to fund.  Tough decisions are being made because we are in a budget crisis right now," Antenori responded.

He added that state leaders made their decision based on data that shows these types of transplants are very risky, and patients often do not survive.  Antenori told 9OYS if the state received data proving the opposite, he would make an effort to dig up the money.