PHOENIX (Reuters) - Arizona has restored funding for some organ transplants that the state cut last year in a controversial move to help close a yawning budget deficit.
Under a new budget signed by Arizona Republican Governor Jan Brewer late on Wednesday, the state will again provide coverage for pancreas, liver, heart and lung transplants for Medicaid patients in the state aged 21 and older.
The state's move last October to deny transplant funding to about 98 Medicaid patients angered critics who said Arizona should not be targeting potentially life-saving procedures in its efforts to cut costs.
"This is death for me," one patient awaiting a heart transplant, told Reuters last month.
At least two transplant patients died following the cuts, although it was not clear if a transplant would have saved them.
Last year's measure was designed to reduce spending on Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the poor and disabled, to help close a projected 2012 state budget deficit of $1.15 billion.
Brewer had singled out the Medicaid program as the greatest drain on state coffers.
State officials said on Thursday that the new budget restored the funding retroactive to April 1.
"As part of the broader budget solution reached between the governor and the Legislature, that funding was restored and we have begun covering the transplants again," Monica Coury, an official at the state Medicaid program, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, told Reuters on Thursday.
Steven Daglas, an advocate working with the families of the patients who had been denied coverage, welcomed the move.
"The families and the individuals who have worked so hard and lived through this nightmare for the past few months, have cause for joy tonight ... they have their chance at life back," Daglas said.
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Jerry Norton and Peter Cooney)