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PolitiFact Florida: Sen. Rick Scott misleads about ‘record funding’ for HIV prevention

Scott renews his talking point in the wake of an investigative story.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla.
Published Sep. 23

An investigative report by The Guardian found that when Sen. Rick Scott was Florida’s governor, he left millions of federal dollars unspent to fight HIV.

That has prompted Scott to renew a familiar and misleading talking point about HIV/AIDS funding during his administration as governor.

Scott’s Senate office told The Guardian, a left-leaning British newspaper, that as governor Scott “invested record funding in HIV/Aids prevention.”

In 2016 we rated a similar statement by Scott about “record funding” Mostly False. Scott was referring to money that almost entirely came from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention while only a small slice came from the state budget.

Scott’s spokespersons did not respond to our questions this time around. They have vaguely pushed back against The Guardian report by repeating the refrain about record funding.

When a reporter for Bay News 9 asked Scott if there was any particular reason the state didn’t use the money he said “no.”

CDC funding for Florida

There are two key federal pots of money designed for HIV: money from the CDC for prevention and money from the Health Resources and Services Administration, known as the Ryan White funds, for treatment.

When Scott talks about a record for prevention he is referring to the CDC federal money, which can be used for prevention programs such as testing and condom distribution.

The amount awarded by the CDC during Scott’s tenure rose from about $19.4 million in 2011 to $34.8 million in 2016. (We asked the CDC and the Florida Department of Health for additional dollar amounts for 2017 and 2018 but didn’t hear back.)

We found that Florida did add in some of its own money. The state provided an additional $1.4 million in 2015 for a public awareness campaign, an HIV hotline and four targeted outreach coordinators.

When Scott signed the 2016-17 budget, he noted the state contribution for HIV/AIDS services was upped to $1.65 million — .002% out of a total state budget of $82 billion.

As for the rising CDC federal funding, that wasn’t because of increased efforts by the state. The funding formula takes into account population, so Florida received more CDC funding than any other state except New York and California in 2015. The money also takes into account infection rates and patient population. The Obama administration aimed to strengthen prevention efforts in communities where HIV was the most heavily concentrated.

In other words, Florida received an increase in federal funding because the state needed it.

Scott rejected a separate source of federal funding that could have helped patients with HIV: expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Increased Medicaid coverage in expansion states drove a nationwide increase in coverage for people with HIV, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found. Medicaid represents the single-largest source of coverage for people with HIV.

Guardian investigation said Florida returned millions of dollars

The Guardian’s article largely focused on what happened with money Florida received from the Ryan White funds, which provide money for treatment.

Between 2015 and 2017, Florida returned $54 million in unspent money after the state health department failed to secure permission from the Legislature to spend it, the Guardian reported. Scott had a philosophy of refusing federal money in many circumstances.

A Health Resources and Services Administration spokeswoman confirmed for PolitiFact Florida that the state returned the $54 million.

It’s common for states to return money to comply with federal rules. States must spend certain drug rebate funds before they spend the Ryan White grant dollars.

In 2016, there were 29 states that returned money — anywhere from hundreds to millions of dollars. In 2014 and 2015, Florida returned the highest amounts of any state — $53 million. The next year, Florida returned an additional $767,000.

The Guardian reported that as the state missed out on millions of dollars, the number of new HIV cases increased.

Jen Kates, an expert on HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told PolitiFact that investments in the right programs can drive down infection rates.

"Broadly speaking, there is definitely a link between investments and the epidemic," Kates said. "I can’t say in this case if what happened with these funds had an impact either way."

Our ruling

When Scott was governor, Florida "invested record funding in HIV/Aids prevention."

Spending on HIV/AIDS prevention dramatically rose during Scott’s tenure as governor, but that was mostly a result of rising federal CDC dollars. The state kicked in a much smaller amount. Those federal dollars rose because Florida, a large state with a rising number of cases, needed the money.

Scott’s statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

Read more rulings at PolitiFact.com/florida.

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