The Gay Men’s Health Summit (GMHS) was held in Fort Lauderdale this week and the struggle for HIV positive persons to receive adequate medication became a major talking point for attendees who were permitted to ask questions of health experts and government leaders.
The GMHS is a large, diverse gathering of both men and women who gather in a major US city every year to discuss HIV/AIDS as well as many other issues affecting the overall health and well-being of the LGBT population. Previous National GMH Summits have been in Boulder CO, Seattle WA, and Raleigh NC, and Salt Lake City UT. The National Summit comes to Florida in a time when there are waiting lists for ADAP funding in the state.
Officials like Christopher H. Bates of PACHA (The Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS) and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz were on hand to discuss the issues. Some of the biggest questions attendees asked related to how much the Obama administration has done to address the LGBT Community when it comes to HIV and questions about funding.
Some attendees were not even aware that a National HIV/AIDS Strategy was released while even a smaller few did not even know about the ADAP funding shortages. However, the majority were already informed on those two points but still had specific questions about funding.
The President recently announced a much needed increase to ADAP funding on top of the previous increase which was criticized by many as insufficient. The previous increase would allot 6.9 million dollars in Federal ADAP funds to the state of Florida. It is not yet calculated how much the new increase would add to that but the number will likely be similar.
However, even though the increases still fall short of what experts say their funding needs are – matters are further complicated by a failure on the part of Florida State Legislators to address the issue. Federal legislators from Florida like Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D) and Senator Bill Nelson (D) have made it known that they wish to see more funding for ADAP but Governor Charlie Crist (R) and CFO Alex Sink (D) have been silent on Florida’s cutbacks to HIV funding.
When pressed for comment, Wasserman Schultz said that Alex Sink, who is currently running for Governor of the state, would still be “comparatively” more open to resolving the funding crisis on the state level than her opponents in the race.
According to Bates, the message from the Florida Department of Health is “partially true because the funding from the Federal Government is not commensurate with what the need is,” but he also says that “states always reserve the right to add from their own budget moneys to the ADAP program.” This can be illustrated by the way that California, after a number of cutbacks contributed millions of state dollars to their own ADAP. New Jersey, likewise, created an innovative program to cover 950 people who would have been left unable to afford medication because their income level was too high to meet budget standards. The New Jersey program took Federal Grants and combined them with rebates they negotiated with pharmaceutical companies to afford just basic HIV medication to those who were almost left out of the ADAP program.
Christopher Bates says that “when some states found that their revenue was making a downward turn, they made a conscious decision not to continue to fund their HIV/AIDS programs. This is a problem because the Ryan White Care Act is structured in a way that is meant to be a partnership and you have to have a certain level of effort going on in your state to help match that Federal money you get.”