Lawyer: Woman denied transplant due to pot use
by Chelsea Jensen
Published: Saturday, August 8, 2009 7:37 AM HST
Kimberly Reyes dies after HMSA declines to cover liver transplant
Taking a hit off a marijuana cigarette may cost your life -- literally.
Waimea 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 she had followed doctor's orders, but her insurance carrier, Hawaii Medical Service Association, denied the liver transplant she needed to survive because three toxicology tests showed trace amounts of cannabis in her system.
According to Reyes' attorney, Ted Herhold of the San Francisco-based Townsend and Townsend, toxicology tests from June 14, July 3 and July 14 were the sole basis for HMSA's denial of coverage for the 51-year-old mother of five.
Reyes' husband, Robin, and her mother, Noni Kuhns, said HMSA's decision was based upon a failure to comply with the insurer's policy strictly forbidding [illegal] drug use. However, both maintain that neither HMSA nor her doctors told them of HMSA's policy on drug use.
Following at least five phone calls from Stephens Media over a one-week period, HMSA Public Information Officer Chuck Marshall replied through an e-mail that HMSA would not comment. HMSA also declined to provide the insurance carrier's policies on drug use or transplant approval.
Reyes died July 27 at Hilo Medical Center, 16 months after being diagnosed. She suffered cirrhosis of the liver, chronic hepatitis - infection, and end-stage kidney disease.
"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 Reyes' mother.
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.
Reyes was twice denied a transplant by HMSA for "technical reasons," such as missing required Alcoholics Anonymous meetings -- because, Kuhns says, she was too weak. However, on July 17, HMSA approved Reyes' request for a liver transplant. That approval signaled the Reyes family and HMSA had apparently resolved compliance issues, Herhold said.