An Arm and a Leg

The Knoxville-based Amputee Coalition of America faces a funding loss

I'd give my right arm for…." It's a common enough expression, usually thrown in for dramatic emphasis in lieu of an exclamation point. Deconstructing the cliché within the realm of reality, however, raises a few interesting questions, among them: How much is a right arm actually worth?

The cost is higher than the American government would like to pay, as indicated by President Bush's veto of a bill in mid-November that would have given the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA), headquartered here in Knoxville, the increase in funding it needs to continue providing the nation's lost-limb community with support and advocacy.

"The bill is important to the ACA because it includes the funding we receive from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is approximately half of our annual budget," explains Stephanie Guthrie, public relations and development associate for the ACA.

The FY 2008 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations bill, as it was called, included appropriations for the ACA's National Limb Loss Information Center at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among other critical ACA programs. The Information Center, says Guthrie, helps individuals living with disabilities connect with the information, resources and support they need to reintegrate socially and economically into society.

Over two million Americans currently live with limb loss, due to diabetes, heart disease, trauma and cancer. Oftentimes, the physical, emotional and financial hurdles they encounter on route to leading a healthy and functioning life can be overwhelming. ACA has spearheaded a number of programs designed to serve amputees nationwide, including a youth camp for children living with limb difference, a National Peer Network that trains and certifies amputees to provide information and emotional support to new amputees, and an Action Plan for People with Limb Loss that seeks to ensure appropriate insurance coverage for amputees.

According to Guthrie, the cost of a single prosthesis can soar well over $40,000. And a child who becomes an amputee at age eight, for instance, might require multiple prosthetic limbs over the course of a lifetime, an even more expensive proposition.

The problem, Guthrie explains, is that, "Many insurance plans cover only a small portion of the cost of a prosthesis or have lifetime caps." Insurance may cover only $5,000 of a $40,000 prosthesis, for instance, or place a limit on how much of the cost they'll front over the course of a lifetime. "Again," says Guthrie, "the burden of the expense is on the insured."

Bush's veto came despite strong support from the House and Senate, whose attempt to override the veto two days later failed by a narrow margin (67 percent needed, 66.2 percent in favor).

"There was a difference of $22 billion between the President's proposed budget and that of Congress," Guthrie says. "Congress tried to renegotiate, closing the gap and meeting in the middle at $11 billion, but Bush vetoed. This is controversial because Bush significantly increased spending on the war, but is unwilling to increase spending on health and education."