Reporter - Danielle Lerner

Mar 1, 2012 12:00 AM by Danielle Lerner

AHCCCS Denied: Cancer-stricken Tucson woman loses insurance coverage

Thousands of low-income residents are still feeling the blow from last year's drastic cuts to the state's Medicaid program. Lawmakers slashed $500 million from Arizona's Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS, through cuts and program freezes. One Tucson woman lost her coverage while undergoing breast cancer treatment. She now faces tens of thousands of dollars in mounting medical bills.

It has been almost one year since 34-year-old Mareya Bullard got her diagnosis. She did not have health insurance at the time so she applied for AHCCCS, but when the time came to renew six months later, she was denied.

"I still sometimes just sit here and think that I'm living someone else's life," Bullard said. For her, every day is a struggle. She has endured a bilateral mastectomy, 27 weeks of chemo and is about to start radiation.

"I feel like I lost a year of my life," she said.

However one of the biggest blows came about six months ago. She was in the middle of chemotherapy when her health insurance ran out.

"Within two days I was denied, just automatically flat out denied," Bullard said. "It said because I wasn't pregnant, I didn't have children or I wasn't a child."

News 4 Tucson's Danielle Lerner contacted AHCCCS to get more information on Mareya's case. A spokeswoman said Mareya was denied back in October because she is considered a childless adult and that program was frozen in July of last year. Mareya then applied again under a different category, but was denied because her unemployment checks placed her over the income limit. Now those checks have stopped coming, and a third appeal is still pending.

Mareya was able to get some discounted coverage through the Pima Community Access Program, or PCAP, but since it does not cover co-pays or prescriptions the bills are piling up.

"Every day, our front line is dealing with this every day," said PCAP Executive Director Michal Goforth.

Goforth says the cuts and freezes are forcing more and more low-income residents to turn elsewhere for health insurance help.

"We do a lot of calling around to make sure people get the services they need and that they're placed appropriately," she said. "I think at some point we will level off but as of now we are seeing increased growth."

As for Mareya, her friends and family are doing what they can to help. They even organized a benefit fundraiser and set up a donation account in her name at Wells Fargo.

"It's just kind of a waiting game and you never know what's going to happen," she said.

AHCCCS says they are waiting on another agency to determine if Mareya qualifies for coverage reserved for those with disabilities. They say it can take months to sort through it all, but after speaking with News 4 Tucson, they say they are trying to speed up that process.

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