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Judge: Woman with
HIV can't be denied lifesaving transplant

Judge: Woman with
HIV can't be denied lifesaving transplant

An administrative law judge has ruled that an HIV-positive Phoenix woman can't be denied a lifesaving liver transplant paid for by taxpayers because of her health status. The victory means that Brenda Gwin, 49, can begin the process of qualifying for a liver transplant through a national organ-donor network. Her liver disease was caused by hepatitis C. Gwin was diagnosed with end-stage liver disease last November. She was denied coverage that same month for a liver transplant by the state Medicaid program--Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System--because of her HIV status. Lawyers with two free legal services filed a lawsuit on her behalf to overturn the decision. "It's potentially lifesaving for Brenda Gwin, and we believe it's a victory for other patients in the Arizona Medicaid system," said Jen Sinton, a New York City lawyer with Lambda Legal, a national organization that fights for the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people, and those with HIV. Although AHCCCS agreed to pay for the transplant after the ruling was issued, the agency hasn't changed its policy prohibiting health plan members with HIV from receiving organ transplants paid for by state Medicaid. AHCCCS officials declined to comment but issued a statement to The Arizona Republic saying it is considering revising its transplant policy for members with HIV. Previously, the agency argued that transplant recipients with HIV didn't fare as well as those without the virus. But Lambda lawyers cited a 2002 New England Journal of Medicine article that found there is no evidence of poorer survival rates. "The medical evidence overwhelming shows right now that people with HIV have just as good a survival rate after a transplant as people without HIV," Sinton said. "This represents another example of the shift toward recognizing that organ transplantation should not be denied based on HIV status alone." California recently passed a law that prevents insurers from denying organ transplants to members based on their HIV status. And in another recent court decision, Veterans Affairs also must evaluate HIV patients for transplants on a case-by-case basis. (AP)

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