On Tuesday July 13, the President’s Domestic Policy Council and the Department of Health of Human Services revealed their National HIV/ AIDS Strategy with the President. Meanwhile, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was busy informing her colleagues about new congressional efforts underway to increase funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP).
ADAP clients in Florida were alarmed to learn that ADAP has been woefully underfunded at both the Federal and State levels over the past few years when suddenly the Florida Department of Health announced that they were implementing a waiting list for new and lapsed clients. Florida health officials never made attempts to warn people about the impending shortages. The Federal Government had not disseminated the information either.
While this first week of action in what we now call “the ADAP crisis” is a welcome change of pace for HIV/AIDS patients and advocates, the direction of the White House strategy does not inspire confidence for everyone. The New York Times, in an article written prior to the unveiling, noted that the report does not propose a major increase in federal spending. While this is certainly music to the ears of the fiscally conservative, it sounds more like hell’s bells to someone on a waiting list for life-saving antiviral medications.
A controversial talking point is emerging in the discussions about ADAP short-falls and that some state-level governments have been accusing the federal government of “falling short of the mark” while simultaneously cutting their own contributions to ADAP by millions with very little justification considering the rise in numbers of people who now depend on the program. Florida is one such state and has now implemented a waiting list for HIV medicine along with planned cuts to the number of medications and services which are available in the formulary.
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz sees where both federal and state governments have fallen down on the job when it comes to ADAP funding. “Federal funding has not kept up with growing demand, and state budget cuts have resulted in funding reductions,” she explained.
“Just last week, the Obama Administration announced that it will re-allocate $25 million to states with waiting lists and other cost containment measures. This will help provide some relief, but I am afraid it will not be enough,” said Wasserman Schultz in an email to her colleagues in DC. The email was a plea for other members of Congress to join her in support of an increase to HIV/AIDS funding.
In a White House conference call hosted by The Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) opinions were expressed amongst members which elaborated on the problem of re-allocating existing funds to certain “emergency areas” as opposed to a general increase of funding. One doctor participating in the call forewarned PACHA members that re-allocation of existing funds only creates shortfalls in another sector that will soon become a brand new emergency for people with HIV. “Yes, we need to fund ADAP, but this needs to be NEW money,” the doctor emphasized.
Aside from the State/Federal blame-game and the worries about re-appropriation of existing funds, there is also the time element to consider. It is not known how many of the hundreds of people who are already on Florida’s ADAP waiting list could be in danger of building up a resistance to medication right now.
“Some states are even removing current beneficiaries from their program,” concluded Wasserman Schultz in her email plea to the rest of Congress. “Clearly, we must address this situation. Without immediate attention and additional resources the situation will rapidly become even worse.”