Woman Dies After Being Denied Transplant Over Pot

Big Island resident Kimberly Reyes, who was diagnosed with Hepatitis in March 2008, had been told in July that she had less than 30 days to live. Her family claimed the Waimea resident had followed doctor’s orders, but her insurance carrier, Hawaii Medical Service Association, denied her coverage for a liver transplant she needed to survive because three toxicology tests showed trace amounts of cannabis in her system.

According to Reyes’ attorney, Ted Herhold, with San Francisco-based Townsend and Townsend, toxicology tests from June 14, July 3 and July 14 were the sole final basis for HMSA’s final denial of coverage for the 51-year-old mother of five.

Reyes’ mother, Noni Kuhns, and Kimberly’s husband, Robin, acknowledged HMSA’s decision was based upon a failure to comply with the insurer’s policy forbidding drug use. However, both claimed after the claim denial that neither HMSA nor her doctors notified Kimberly or the family of HMSA’s apparent policy on drug use.

Following at least five separate telephone inquiries from West Hawaii Today made over a one-week period, HMSA public information officer Chuck Marshall replied through an e-mail that HMSA declined to comment. HMSA also declined to provide the insurance carrier’s standard policies in regard to drug use or drug use and transplant approval.

Kimberly Reyes died July 27 at Hilo Hospital, 16 months after being diagnosed. In the months after her diagnosis, she suffered cirrhosis of the liver, chronic Hepatitis infection, end-stage kidney disease and hepatorenal syndrome, which is caused by low blood flow to the kidneys due to liver deterioration.

“Just because someone takes a hit off of a joint doesn’t mean that it should be the end of their life — this is not a reason to deny life,” said Kuhns.

The Hepatitis virus attacks the liver and interferes with its function, leading to liver failure and cirrhosis, or fatal scarring, of the liver, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Kimberly Reyes was twice denied her application for transplant by HMSA for “technical reasons,” such as missing required Alcoholics Anonymous meetings because she was too weak for doctor appointments, claimed Kuhns. However, on July 17, Reyes received HMSA’s approval for a liver transplant.

That approval signaled that the Reyes family and HMSA had apparently resolved compliance issues, Herhold said.

Three days later HMSA denied the transplant approval after it received toxicology tests that showed cannabis in her system, Herhold said.

He claimed her marijuana use was “an indiscretion.”

She did not, according to her attorney and family, have a prescription for medical marijuana use.

Kuhns and Robin both claimed Kimberly Reyes had stopped smoking marijuana “years ago,” but took a few hits off a marijuana cigarette that day to relieve feelings of nausea, disorientation and pain.

Reyes, who was in Hilo Hospital’s intensive care unit before her death, on July 23 declined to speak with West Hawaii Today, saying she was having difficulty talking, was worn out and not in the mood.

– Article from the Honolulu Advertiser on August 8, 2009.

Comments

19 Comments

  1. Anonymous on

    i have been taken off the list for liver transplant for positiveat methodist transplant center in houston. this is after my insurace spent 180,000 on all test & a bypass,which they said i needed to have transplant. my other heart doctors said i did not need bypass,they did not even put in a splint. i nearly died 3 times after the bypass. i am confused.other doctord said i did not need a transplant just a procedure called TIPS SHUNT PROCEDURE. is this all about money.

    HOW MANY MORE PEOPLE WILL BE GIVEN DEATH SENTENCES FOR SMOKING A JOINT.I HAVE NOT DRANK ALCOHOL FOR OVER 4 YEARS.

    LEGALIZE POT & STOP THE MURDER & MADNESS WITH OLD ANTIQUATED & DRACONIAN LAWS

  2. Darnay on

    Let’s be clear, this is another horrific example of why we need health insurance reform now. With the current inadequate level of government regulation, the health insurance industry is allowed to literally put profits before human life. If you think this corporation’s behavior is sickening, let your Congressmember and Senators know that you would like to see it outlawed. The real solution, of course, would be a single-payer system.

  3. Ryan on

    Yes, your right…Its murder! & all about money at that…

  4. Ryan on

    yes, this is absolutly disgracefull…BS!(…SAD!…)
    Reading this was painful & still :(

  5. Anonymous on

    This is what Bob got from me, although as long as he gets his bonus I doubt he cares.

    Dear Sir,Having recently read about the preventable death of Kimberly Reyes in a hospital in Hilo.(After having been denied a liver transplant) , I am reminded of why this country so desperately needs to get the profit motive of denying medical care out of the health care system. What happened to Ms. Should be criminal, not another addition to the profit margin for the quarter. Well sir, what your company did to this woman has solidified my hatred of health insurance companies and the heartless greedy pigs who operate them.

  6. BG on

    and absolutely disgracefull.

  7. Bob on

    Well I hope “Karma” is really a psycho named Bob wielding a machete.

  8. Anonymous on

    You’re damn right, they’re cold blooded killers!

    You’ll never hear of someone being denied a liver transplant because of alcohol use … even when that might make a little more sense.

    Someone being condemned to death over pot… well that’s just fucking barbaric.

    I hope karma visits an equal act of barbarism onto those responsible for this travesty.

  9. toxicc on

    You are talking about capitalism, not communism.

  10. *witchy* on

    Well, since we’re all upset now, maybe we should take a moment to remember this woman was NOT the first to die due to a liver transplant denial based solely on cannabis use!

    Licensed Medical Marijuana Patient Timothy Garon of Washington State died on May 1, 2008 after being denied a liver transplant. The 56 year-old musician had used cannabis under his physician’s consent and supervision to treat the symptoms of his advanced Hepatitis-C infection.

    It was this government sanctioned (Washington MedMJ laws) cannabis use that was cause for the University Medical Center’s denial.

    You can read more about Tim here:
    http://www.komonews.com/news/18475224.html

    So, my take is the medical establishment got away with this once – why should they stop now? The precedent was set by the denial of a “legal” pot smoker in a med-pot state; did anyone assume a woman without a doctor’s recommendation would fare any better?

    I certainly hope this is a wake-up call!

    RIP Tim & Kim

  11. maryjanesuncle on

    universal health care in action

  12. Scott on

    not communist, facist,
    in a true communist nation, there would be no such thing as health insurance, health care would be free

    in a communist utopia there would be no dictators,

  13. TAS on

    How can this happen? To me this is murder in the 1st degree.WTF is with the U.S.A., to let this shit happen? This is a N.W.O. IN ACTION.

  14. Anne on

    This should be considered malpractice and prosecuted as such. Anyone who reads this and is offended should immediately express your thoughts to [email protected] and cc the following addresses:

    [email protected]
    [email protected] (Medical Director)
    [email protected] (Executive VP)
    [email protected] (Executive VP)
    [email protected] (CFO)
    [email protected] (Senior VP)
    [email protected] (Senior VP)
    [email protected] (Senior VP)
    [email protected] (Senior VP)
    [email protected] (CIO)
    [email protected] (Senior VP)
    [email protected] (Oversees health services)
    [email protected] (Utilization Mgmt)

    You can also find the HMSA Board of Directors listed here: http://www.hmsa.com/about/leadership/board.aspx

    EMAIL AWAY!!!

  15. gstlab3 on

    I HATE COMMUNISTS!!! THESE DICTATORS IN OUR BIG COMPANIES AS WELL AS THE DICTATORS IN OUR GOVERNMENTS THAT SKIRT AROUND THE ISSUES AND HAVE THE PEOPLE SUFFER FOR IT!! ALL BECAUSE OF THE ALLMIGHTY IMPARATIVE OF MAKING A PROFIT AND CUTTING COSTS.,AND THIS EXCUSE THE INSURANCE COMAPANY USES TO DENY A LIFE SAVING TRANSPLANT WILL NOT HOLD WATER WITH ME ANY DAY!!! I KNOW FROM FIRST HAND EXPIERIENCE THAT MARIJUANA HELPS EASE PAIN AND NAUSIA., THE FACT THAT THESE PEOPLE.,/”INSURERS” CAN APPROVE OR DISAPPROVE ANYTHING THAT A DOCTOR DEEMS NESESSARY TO SAVE OR HELP IMPROVE QUALITY OF LIFE IS A FORM OF TYRANY BECAUSE THE ONLY CONSIDERATION IS THE AMOUNT MONEY THEY CAN MAKE AND THE POLITICAL BACKING THEY CAN REAP BY MAINTAINING ALLEAGANCE WITH THE ANTI MARIJUANA CRUSADERS AND THE DRUG FREE ZELLOTS!!!! THESE ARE THE SAME PEOPLE THAT WANT ALL DOCTORS TO BE MONITORED FOR ALL NARCOTIC PAIN PRESCRIPTIONS THEY WRITE BECAUSE THEY ARE NATURALLY OCCURING/CHEAP AND THEY WORK AND TAKE FROM THE PURE SYNTHETIC MARKETS WICH REQUIRE NO NATURAL COMPOUNDS DURING MANUFACTURE UNLIKE REAL OPIATES WICH COST ALMOST NOTHING TO CREATE!!!!

  16. Anonymous on

    Alcoholics are regularly denied transplants in the United States on that very basis. The fact that she was supposed to be attending A.A. meetings tells me she is atleast a recovering alcoholic, so why they would approve her and then turn around and deny her on the basis of Cannabis baffles me…

    If they were denying her on the basis of indiscretion, just to save money they could have used the fact that she was an alcoholic in the first place.. The fact that they let her die in an after the fact decision based on her cannabis makes this look more politically charged than anything.

    The insurance provider see’s a threat in the medicinal use of cannabis outside of the pharmaceutical industries grasp. At least thats how I see it..

    This sickening. 5 kids just lost their mother because of this.. We need to be coming down HARD on these good for nothing bastards.

  17. Anonymous on
  18. Anonymous on

    The people who denied her a transplant are murderers! Cannabis has no adverse affects on the liver or any other organ for that matter. Why dont they refuse alcoholics? People who knowingly destroyed their bodies.