A senate bill to improve health equity and quality care has yet to receive a hearing in Tallahassee.

Florida Senate bill 1608, sponsored by Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah), remains stalled in the legislative body’s banking and insurance committee, said an aide to Garcia.

“We have requested for the Chair to hear the bill in the BI committee, however she has yet to put it on the agenda for a meeting,” said A.J. Damico, Garcia’s legislative assistant. “It is up to Senator Flores.”

Flores is the Senate’s President Pro Tempore. A Republican, Flores serves parts of Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties.

Senate bill 1608 is a companion piece of legislation to House bill 1405, introduced by Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando). Smith said the bills are intended to lower the cost of HIV medications by prohibiting HMOs from classifying prescriptions at the highest tier in regards to deductibles and copays.

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The bill has bipartisan support and this week received added muscle from the leading LGBT Republican group. The Miami chapter of Log Cabin Republicans is urging lawmakers to hear the bill.

“The HIV epidemic isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue,” said Vince Foster, President of Miami LCR. “It isn’t a gay or straight issue. It’s an American issue – particularly here in Florida. One in 54 Floridians will be diagnosed with HIV and Miami has the second highest infection rate of any U.S. city. It would be a disservice for all Floridians and for the State House not to pass HB 1405.”

In 2015, the Florida Department of Health reported 4,868 diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases.  FDOH estimates there are 127,589 Floridians living with HIV and of that figure – 12.4 percent are unaware of their status.

Expensive remedies to HIV infection are a deterrent to treatment, said Jason King, legislative affairs manager for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Southern Bureau.

“What’s worse is some patients forgo enrolling into a plan altogether, meaning they may not be taking their medications needed to remain virally suppressed and not transmit HIV to others,” King said. “Florida has some of the highest rates of new HIV infections in the country. The only way that’s going to change is if every person living with HIV can afford and take the medications they need.”

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