We just received this letter at NORML. I’ll reserve my “American Disease Care and Health Insurance Bureaucracy Subsidation” rant for another time on my personal blog, but I will say that my wife used to be a claims manager at Blue Cross Blue Shield and the following story, while infuriating and tragic, is far from the worst health care nightmare this company has created for one of its paying customers:
My name is Walter and my kidney transplant was denied by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia due to the fact I smoke marijuana.
I was born with reflux disease and required my first kidney transplant in May 1978 at the age of 2 1/2. My older brother gave me one of his kidneys and the transplant was a success.
Now, 31 years later the transplanted kidney is failing. I currently only have 17% of my kidney function.
In January I went to the University of Minnesota/Fairview Transplant Center for an evaluation. In order to be completely honest with all the doctors I made them aware of the fact that I smoke marijuana and have for quite some time. I also made them aware that the use of marijuana has helped me with the decline of my appetite due to end stage of renal disease. With the exception of the hospital shrink, no one seemed to have a problem with it and even commented that my smoking had nothing to do with my kidney.
Blue Cross Blue Shield approved the evaluation but [after] having received the paperwork from Minnesota has declined my transplant, stating “Kidney transplantation has not been shown to be more beneficial than other alternative treatments for patients with ongoing substance abuse. Thus, I recommended denial of kidney transplantation” (Ronald Hunt MD – Medical Director).
I spoke to one of my doctors and they suggested that I contact NORML. It is my understanding most of your lawyers listed on your website are for criminal defense but I was hoping that you may have a lawyer familiar with medical insurance claims in the Atlanta area. Any assistance you can give with the matter will be greatly appreciated.
If you can help Walter in any way, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject Help for Walter. We have put out the word to our Georgia-area NORML Legal Committee members and I’ll keep you updated on any progress.
Meanwhile, transplant patients like Walter are being discriminated against for no medically valid reason. We reported on the study showing cannabis use has no impact on survival of liver transplant patients like Tim Garon, who, with two weeks to live, was told by hospital administrators he needed to be 60-days clean from the cannabis medicine he used to treat his pain and nausea before they’d even consider him for a life-saving transplant — this after he was next on the list for a transplant, but like Walter, made the mistake of being honest with his doctor. While the study was on liver transplants, there is no medically logical reason to assume cannabis use would be harmful for kidney transplant patients, either.
NORML Legal Committee attorney Douglas Hiatt in Seattle is now defending a man who, like Walter, is being denied a kidney transplant because of marijuana use, but unlike Walter, this guy lives in a state that has legally recognized his right to use medical marijuana! For many of these transplant patients, their bodies are so weakened they can’t handle powerful pharmaceuticals and the ones they can handle give so many terrible side effects. Especially for the liver patients, their bodies can’t process the toxins of these drugs.
Marijuana is not renatoxic or hepatoxic – it doesn’t harm the kidneys or liver. It treats the side-effects of the pre- and post-transplant anti-rejection drugs and treats the pain and nausea caused by the failing organ itself. This needless cruelty must stop!