Don't cut lifesaving help

Florida faces a significant AIDS crisis. One in every 205 Caucasian men in the state is HIV positive. So is one in every 113 Hispanic men, and one in every 42 African-American men. In Florida, like elsewhere in America, AIDS is the leading cause of death for young African-American women.

The severity of this crisis is why more than 9,600 low-income Floridians rely on the government for help to afford lifesaving AIDS medications. These drugs are made available through a state-run initiative, the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, or ADAP, administered by the Florida Department of Health. On its website, the agency says that one of its lifesaving missions is to help AIDS and hepatitis patients who otherwise cannot afford their medication.

Yet a proposal under consideration by the Department of Health would undermine this mission by drastically reducing the number of low-income Floridians who qualify for ADAP. (A department spokeswoman told the Associated Press this week there are no immediate plans to change the program, though it held hearings to discuss the possibility of lowering income requirements to participate.)

This cost-saving move would exclude all but the state's poorest residents — those earning less than $21,780 per year. If this happens, more than 1,600 people who receive ADAP assistance would be cut from the program, and the nearly 4,000 residents already on a state waiting list — the nation's longest — would have no hope of ever receiving assistance.

Granted, we must tighten our belts during tough economic times, and spending decisions must be prioritized. But ADAP should not be the first place to look for cost savings. It should be the last. After all, the consequences of cutting back this program are, quite literally, life or death.

Given that lifesaving antiretroviral medications can cost between $10,000 and $30,000 per year, the proposed ADAP eligibility change would put low-income individuals with HIV/AIDS in the untenable position of being unable to afford essential treatment for an incurable, communicable disease. With treatment, these Floridians can lead healthy, productive lives. Without it, they will slowly die.

A better proposal would be to fully fund ADAP for all those who need but cannot afford treatment. Indeed, in a time of budget concerns, fully funding ADAP would be not only humane but fiscally prudent; it would save significant health-care costs over the long run that would be otherwise paid by the taxpayer.

The Elton John AIDS Foundation has invested significant funding for HIV/AIDS prevention, stigma reduction, treatment, care, and associated services for those living with HIV/AIDS in Florida. We stand in solidarity with our grantees and partners in Florida who are deeply concerned about the tremendous harm this proposal would cause in the communities they serve. And we echo and applaud Sen. Bill Nelson, who has written to Gov. Rick Scott and President Barack Obama about the unacceptable lack of funding for ADAP in Florida.

At the outset, we offered a few statistics to broaden the public's awareness. We'll close with an appeal to broaden the public's heart. We hope Floridians will show compassion by treating those who are suffering as if they were their own friends and family. Indeed, this is all too often the case.

Musician Elton John and filmmaker David Furnish are the founder and chairman, respectively, of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which has raised more than $225 million for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention since 1992.

Don't cut lifesaving help 06/02/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 2, 2011 6:28pm]

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