Death Panels are Here!

Today’s Managing Health Care Costs Indicator is $4.5 Million

Well, we have a death panel.  It’s the Arizona legislature.

Arizona was the last state in the union to implement a Medicaid program (jointly funded by the state and the federal government).  The program is aptly called the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.   

Arizona faces a yawning budget deficit –as do many states.  The bursting housing bubble hit Arizona hard, and tax collections are way down.  The state has already sold and leased back its capitol building, and new taxes are off the table.

The state determined that the success rate of heart, pancreas, lung and liver transplants is too low to justify the high costs of these procedures, and stopped paying for these as of October 1.  

Here’s what this means for a patient:

Francisco Felix, 32, a father of four who has hepatitis C and is in need of a liver, received news a few weeks ago that a family friend was dying and wanted to donate her liver to him. But the budget cuts meant he no longer qualified for a state-financed transplant.
He was prepared anyway at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center as his relatives scrambled to raise the needed $200,000. When the money did not come through, the liver went to someone else on the transplant list.  NYTimes December 3  

There is no easy answer here.  The state has too many needs for its limited budget, and these transplants are indeed enormously expensive.   However, transplants have proven to be effective, and the alternative for patients is death.  It’s not clear that a state agency is the best party to evaluate success rates of procedures, and the Times reports that “national transplant groups call the figures misleading.”

We need to eliminate unnecessary medical expenditures to leave room in the budget for proven effective therapy, even when it’s expensive.  There are 100 people on transplant lists in Arizona who will be removed if the legislature doesn’t reconsider. The total projected savings are $4.5 million.