Barring something out of the ordinary, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was set to pull funding from the heart transplant program at Houston-based Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center on Friday. CMS sent a letter in June pegging Aug. 17 as the day it would cut off the program, although a St. Luke’s rep named Marilyn Gerry told ProPublica and the Houston Chronicle on Friday that the hospital was still talking with CMS about possible options.
Gerry downplayed the impact of federal termination, saying that it “only affects how Medicare pays for heart transplant costs” and that it won’t affect patients in need of lung, liver or kidney transplants.
But experts say once Medicare refuses to cover heart transplants at a hospital, private insurance companies often follow suit. If that happens, most of the 87 patients on the program’s heart waiting list would have to either pay out of pocket for their surgeries, transfer to another hospital or hope that St. Luke’s is willing to perform the procedure at no cost.
ProPublica and the Chron went in full-throttle on the once-famed program’s troubles back in May, just a couple weeks before CMS sent the letter (hosted here by those pubs) notifying the hospital of its intentions to cut funding.