Two Arizonans cut from health care said Thursday they are fighting for their lives and hope they and Heinz can help thousands of others in the same situation.
Inflammatory breast-cancer patient Bobbie Thayer and heart-disease patient Bill Nelson said that thanks to the elimination of the Medical Expense Deduction program, Arizonans with life-threatening conditions are struggling to survive.
“I am just one individual who fell through the cracks due to these cuts, and there are many more people out there just like me,” Thayer said. “I have met a lot of single adult individuals who are in the same situation as me; some do not know how to be aggressive or to speak up or even knew they were going to be terminated until we started talking about it.”
Thayer was unable to enroll in MED, a program designed to assist people who do not qualify for Medicaid but who suffer from an accident or catastrophic illness and whose medical bills put them below 40 percent of the federal poverty level. The program was closed to new enrollees on May 1 and terminated on Oct. 1. About 5,700 people were enrolled, and the number of Arizonans who would have qualified for it since its elimination is unknown.
Heinz, a hospital physician, said he sees every day the toll health-care cuts have taken on Arizonans who no longer have coverage and in order to fix it, the MED program needs to be restored.
“Our emergency rooms are flooded with Arizonans like Bobbie and Bill who have no where else to go and who have no other choice due to their acute, and often deadly, conditions,” Heinz said. “The elimination of the MED program was not only a poor financial choice for the state, but also potentially a death sentence to thousands of Arizonans who fall through the cracks and otherwise would have had a safety net.”
State economists predict a surplus this year of $416 million (see story); the MED program was estimated to cost $70 million this year.
The elimination of the MED program caused heart-disease patient Nelson and his wife, who suffered from breast cancer, to seek out all possibilities for health-care coverage, even a divorce.
“It was really heart wrenching for us that after 31 years of marriage we would have to lose the sanctity of that marriage just so we could receive insurance,” Nelson said. “We’re depending upon the charity of other people of whom we haven’t had to depend on before. Thousands of people like us don’t know where to turn. It isn’t that we can just walk into a hospital and they can just fix us when we need specialists for these conditions.”
Heinz said he hopes that the majority of state lawmakers will see the catastrophic conditions, the strain on emergency rooms and how the cut to MED simply don’t make sense.
“It’s important they know what these cuts did,” Heinz said. “Now we’ve got to work together to fix it.”