Last fall Arizona stopped funding certain kinds of organ transplants under the state’s Medicaid program. State legislators promised to revised the issue following a few deaths that resulted from the decision. Representative Anna Tovar, a transplant recipient herself, discusses.
Ted Simons: Last fall, Arizona stopped funding certain types of organ transplants under the state's Medicaid program known as AHCCCS. About 100 people on a waiting list for transplants were told that they were no longer eligible. After some of those people died, state lawmakers pledged to revisit the issue during the current legislative session. Earlier I spoke with representative Anna Tovar, a transplant recipient herself. She's introduced several bills to restore transplant funding. Thank you for joining us on "Horizon."
Anna Tovar: Thank you for having me.
Ted Simons: Let's talk about the bills you filed regarding transplants. What do we have here?
Anna Tovar: the issue of transplants is near and dear to my heart. I proposed four bills that will solve and reinstate the transplant coverage. Two of the bills dealing with the accounting tax credit and one bill that's open for 26 legitimate funding options and the last bill is a combination of a private-public dollar for dollar maximum.
Ted Simons: Lets talk about the accounting tax credit, what's involved here?
Anna Tovar: The accounting tax credit currently benefits big corporations and special interest groups and gives approximately $10,000 a year. Just for filing their taxes. And normally, Arizonans don't get paid for filing taxes so this is a tax credit that maybe in the past was helpful but now that everything is computerized and retailers are able to generate numbers which once required paper and pen, this is definitely a credit that I think could be more useful in reinstating transplants than giving big corporations a credit for their taxes.
Ted Simons: You're looking for state matches funds kind of situation?
Anna Tovar: It would have private and public. The public can donate to private 501(C)(3)s and they would match dollar for dollar and the amount the state would generate wouldn't be $1.2 million but go down to $650,000.
Ted Simons: Ok, and finally, you mentioned 26 funding options if you take it out of the general fund, at least 26 ways you found that could cover the costs. What are those ways?
Anna Tovar: There's 26 legitimate solutions and there's a website, www.Arizona98.com that lists the solutions but to give you a example. There's one on the unclaimed lottery fund that's bring revenue to the state that we can use toward transplants. And many solutions that are viable and won't hurt our economy will definitely boost in making sure that transplants are covered.
Ted Simons: What were you hearing from leadership and Republican lawmakers in general?
Anna Tovar: Well, there's a mix, I would say, of opinions. And one of those being that transplants don't work and we don't want to take this piecemeal effect to solve the issue. But this issue is not going away any time soon and these are about people's lives we're talking about. To me, this is not a Republican issue, it's not a Democrat issue, this is a human issue and people's lives are at stake. My proposal is to bring as many solutions to the table for these people to have a second chance at life.
Ted Simons: Is there a -- do you have the feeling that by bringing these issues to the table, that someone is going to be listening? Because right now, it seems the momentum behind this has gotten lost and I should say that the chair in the house is saying instead of going and filing these bills, go ahead and use these ideas as amendments to the full budget. How do you respond?
Anna Tovar: That's one thing I'll be proposing. In appropriations, I'll be presenting amendment so that we can hear and one important thing, to make sure we're hearing the factual research that backs up that transplant do work. AHCCCS is sticking by the 2006-2007 numbers in regards to transplants but the whole picture, national statistics there's updated complete data we have access to that proves that transplants work. So the line on old outdated information is very ineffective and not giving the best opportunity for people relying on these transplants. My number one focus, is making sure again that we base this information on factual information and these are, you know, transplant organizations nationwide and here in Arizona that are transplant surgeons that have the statistics, the numbers to prove that transplants work.
Ted Simons: So you're saying the data they're using is too limited and too old?
Anna Tovar: It's 2006-2007 and based on 13 patients.
Ted Simons: Ok. There's also the idea that -- we've had the speaker of the house on this and the governor has talked about this, the governor's office, that someone is going to lose their coverage if the state finds money for this comp. How do you respond to that?
Anna Tovar: Not necessarily. The solutions I brought forward do not take away from anyone else's benefits. They actually cover solely the transplant patient. This is not affecting any other patient. It's bringing revenue neutral or other solutions from the budget that require us to look at this, you know, in a meaningful way.
Ted Simons: You know some folks look at getting rid of tax credits and loopholes as some describe them see them as the fact of tax increases.
Anna Tovar: That's why I brought so many solutions to the table. And one issue I think is important to me is these people that are waiting on the list, you know, they had jobs, they were productive members of society and had private insurance. The thing is that illness strikes at any time so they were healthy one day, the next day sick, they lost their job and benefits so AHCCCS was the last point for them to have any chance of making sure they had health insurance that would cover them. So these people are productive members that require this life-saving transplant in order them to get back to being productive members of society.
Ted Simons: Critics of this and almost every other government program, apparently, will say it's really not the government's job to pay medical bills, that why should the public have to pay for something like this, these kind of procedures. Why should the public have to pay for these procedures?
Anna Tovar: My priority is taking care of the most vulnerable patients and citizens in Arizona will move the economy forward and without doing that, I think we're pushing ourselves back and not fully going out to what our potential is for the state of Arizona. We have to take responsibility in making sure our citizens are healthy and are able to be productive members of Arizona. And by covering this and making sure that they are, I think it's a step in the right direction.
Ted Simons: Quickly, before we let you go, you're a transplant recipient, correct? Bone marrow transplants?
Anna Tovar: Yes, I have had two transplants, a stem cell and a bone marrow so when I look at statistics, I've beaten the odds on statistics and I'm very optimistic this can be changed. My whole life has been about fighting the odds and maintaining hope and I'm hopeful that I can work in a bipartisan way to make sure the change happens.
Ted Simons: You're hopeful and optimistic and been down this particular route. Something very similar. Why do you think -- this had a lot of traction before the session began and most observers seem to think it's lost some of that traction now. Why aren't people Marching and shouting in the streets over something like this?
Anna Tovar: I think there's so many different misguided bills that have come into play lately in the state that has distracted Arizonans from the true issues we need too move forward. I'm all for making sure our economy and moving bills forward that attack our job situation, our foreclosure crisis and it loses momentum but definitely it comes into play at a very high time when people lose their lives and that's something I'm trying to prevent. This is definitely an issue that won't go away and it might make big head lines when another person dies, but my solution is let's tackle it before another person dies.
Ted Simons: Good to have you on the program. Thanks for joining us.
Anna Tovar: I appreciate it.
Anna Tovar:state representative, Tolleson;