TAMPA — Basketball great Magic Johnson brought his gospel of hope to a neighborhood with one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in Florida on Tuesday.
He also pitched a new Medicaid health plan that focuses on treating the disease.
South Florida-based Clear Health Alliance is partnering with the University of South Florida Health Morsani College of Medicine to offer the plan. Johnson owns a share in the company.
HIV/AIDS is an especially pressing issue in Florida, which has the third highest number of people living with the condition. Although new treatments are helping people live for decades, infection rates, particularly among young men, are stubbornly high.
"It takes all of us to take those (infection) numbers down,'' Johnson, 54, said during a news conference Tuesday.
He also spoke with young people from the university area, which has the highest HIV/STD rate in Hillsborough County, and one of the highest in the state.
Twenty-two years ago, the Los Angeles Lakers star shocked the sports world when he revealed his diagnosis. But he also became a symbol of hope for millions at a time when HIV was still widely regarded as a death sentence.
Johnson, who appeared robust at Tuesday's event, attributes his good health to taking his medicine every day, even when he doesn't feel like it.
His persistence with his own health has paid off.
"I've lived to see my kids as adults. I'm on top of my (medical) regime. You can live a long time. I've met people at 35 and 40 (years with the condition).''
The Clear Health Alliance plan is touting consistent care as the key to proper treatment. USF doctors will continue to treat patients with HIV/AIDS in the plan at the Hillsborough County Health Department, said Dr. Douglas Holt, who directs the infectious disease division at USF Health and leads the health department.