Skip to main content

Arizona Democrat says transplant cuts create 'death panels'

By Michael Martinez, CNN
  • A man denied a liver transplant after state budget cuts died last week
  • Arizona Senate Minority Leader-Elect David Schapira says cuts have created "death panels"
  • Democrat David Schapira is calling upon legislature to restore $1.2 million in funding
  • Both chambers of Arizona legislature are controlled by Republican Party

(CNN) -- The recent death of a patient denied a liver transplant because of Arizona budget cuts has prompted a Democrat legislative leader to charge that the state is now home to "death panels," he told CNN Thursday.

Arizona Senate Minority Leader-Elect David Schapira, a Democrat from Tempe, said he will seek emergency restoration next week of the $1.2 million that was cut from the state's Medicaid funding for certain kinds of transplants.

"I would like to alert people in the rest of the country that we have death panels right here in Arizona, and those who cut this funding and refuse to restore it are the death panels," Schapira said in an interview with CNN.

Schapira was referring to Republican Gov. Jan Brewer and the Republicans who now hold a two-thirds majority in both legislative chambers.

Schapira has also referred to Brewer as "a one-person death panel."

Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said Schapira has yet to advance a workable plan to resolve Arizona's budget crisis.

"The minority leader has yet to produce a single proposal to resolve Arizona's massive Medicaid deficit, only this empty rhetoric, despite being asked for over a year to submit a plan that might succeed and garner support," Senseman told CNN in a statement.

The budget cut has resulted in 98 patients being denied a transplant, Schapira said.

One of them died last week, Schapira said.

Another patient, Mark Price, who needed a bone marrow transplant, died in November from complications from chemotherapy, Schapira said. He also linked Price's death to the budget cuts.

"The fact of the matter is that there are 96 or 97 people living right now that as far as we know would benefit from life-saving transplants. There are very few opportunities in government where we can save lives, and this is one of them," Schapiro said.

Tucson's University Medical Center confirmed Thursday the death last week of a male patient who was denied a liver transplant list because of the state budget cuts, said Jo Marie Gellerman, director of community affairs for the University of Arizona department of surgery, which is affiliated with the hospital.

The man, whose identity was not released, died December 28 and had hepatitis C, one of the categories no longer eligible for state Medicaid-funded transplants as of last October 1, Gellerman told CNN.

"This person was on the transplant list for a liver and was delisted because of the (state Medicaid) guideline changes," or budget cuts, Gellerman said.

Schapira blamed the death on the Republican-led legislature's decision last year to eliminate its $1.2 million share of Medicaid funding for certain transplants. That also meant the loss of $2.4 million in federal matching funds, Schapira said.

Schapira also called upon the governor to use federal stimulus money to replace the transplant budget cut.

"Lives are being lost over politics," Schapira said. "As far as we know, this most recent death on December 28 was due to the fact this person did not receive a liver transplant because of the cuts made by the Republican leadership in the Arizona legislature and signed into law by the governor.

"Health care in Arizona right now is Brewercare," Schapira charged.