[Ed. Note: Please welcome Tessa Moll to HayLadies! Tessa is a recent master’s student in gender studies from the University of Cape Town, a world away from her native Texas. She enjoys reading across the leftist spectrum of the blogosphere (and taking some peeks over to the right to get ragey) and writing on international gender issues and the day-to-day acts of gender policing. She currently lives in Copenhagen, where she is learning how to enjoy pickled herring and missing breakfast tacos. She can also be found on Twitter @tessamuldvarp and at dcnstrct.wordpress.com.]
Budget cuts and so-called “austerity measures” are a well-understood fact of the newest budget fights in Austin. From education programs to healthcare, many needed programs are sweating their very existence. However, when legislators vote to stop funding life-sustaining drugs to those with AIDS, we have a problem.
Although a Texas Senate subcommittee recommended increasing funding to the HIV Medication Program, a House version has removed the $23 million needed to keep it afloat. The HIV Medication Program, federally known as the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, provides necessary HIV/AIDS medications, including the expensive anti-retrovirals that can cost roughly $2,000 a month per person, for low-income people. The Texas program already does so for 15,000 people, but with the budget cuts, drastic changes are expected in the programs ability to meet anticipated demand for these drugs. The medication program is roughly $20 million short for the next two years to meet expected demand. The increased unemployment rate and recession have forced thousands off of employment-based insurance. And, as the drugs intention is to prolong and improve quality of life, more users are staying on the program longer – about 1/5 of people on the program have been so for 10 years or more.
However, underfunded AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (also known as ADAP) is not isolated to Texas. Washington state instituted a client payment sharing program, so recipients must share in the costs of the drugs. Louisiana has capped their enrollment. And in Georgia, over 1,000 people are on a waiting list for the program. Around the country, an estimated 6,000 HIV-positive people are waiting for admittance to the program. ADAP is predominantly federally funded – over $1.5 billion comes from the federal government, and states make up the difference, or roughly 25% of costs. In Texas, 68% of the 15,000 people currently enrolled make less than the federal poverty level. With these funding cuts, program administrators are estimating they may have to cap enrollment, lower the maximum income requirements, or implement a waiting list. Those currently enrolled will be able to continue their regiments uninhibited.
And what will the estimated 2,000 low-income Texans seeking assistance each year do? Maybe they have recently been diagnosed with HIV? Maybe they have recently lost their jobs and insurance? “The natural progression, without any medications, would be that they die,” said Dr. David Lakey, the state health commissioner when asked by a senate committee, according to the Associated Press.
Additionally, what has long been understood with HIV transmission in sub-Saharan Africa, is that those without access to anti-retrovirals become increasingly ill, thus increasing risk of infection. Healthy HIV-positive people on a anti-retroviral regiment are much less likely to pass the disease. Nation-wide cuts to program that provide these much-needed drugs are likely to not only result in deaths of a largely marginalised group – low-income HIV-positive people – but continue the transmission of the disease. And while Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has vaguely pledged to keep all life-sustaining drugs in the Texas Senate version of the budget, we must ensure that his promise means to increase support of the program to what it needs to survive and cover these anticipated 2,000 new cases. I’ve started a petition on Change.org to tell Dewhurst to ensure the Senate version of the budget bill keep the funding – and that the program does not become cut in May when the House and Senate versions must be fused.