Budget cuts threaten AIDS assistance

A spending bill under review by the U.S. Senate does not include funding needed to continue lifesaving medications to nearly 8,000 low-income people with HIV, according to the AIDS Institute, a national nonprofit organization. Part the bill that would fund the federal government through the end of September discontinues $35 million for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP).

The spending bill would also halt $10 million for clinical medical care provided through Part C of the Ryan White Program, the AIDS Institute said in a news release issued on March 19.

"While we have faced severe waiting lists for people wanting to take medications in the past, failure to provide funding for existing patients is a dangerous unprecedented action by the U.S government," said Carl Schmid, deputy executive director of The AIDS Institute, in a prepared statement.

Once a patient begins antiretroviral treatment, the drugs must be taken every day without interruption or the person can quickly become ill. Resistance to medications can occur, even with a single missed dose, leading to serious health complications and higher health costs, the organization explained.

President Obama increased funding for ADAP on World AIDS Day in 2011 in response to the growing wait lists and at the urging of several members of Congress.  Earlier House and Senate versions of the fiscal year 2013 spending bills continued this money -- and even included significant increases to address the eight percent growth in clients ADAP experienced last year, according to the AIDS Institute.

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin attempted to address the ADAP funding cut with an amendment that would have resolved this issue, among other things, the group said. "Unfortunately, it failed on a party-line vote on the Senate floor. Without the $35 million continuation in ADAP funding, states such as Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Nebraska, Tennessee and several others will likely stop providing medications to many ADAP clients," the release stated.

"We hope that before the bill is finalized and sent to the president, Congress will see fit to find a way to continue this funding to avoid any interruptions in lifesaving care and treatment. With sequestration and discussion of further budget cuts, continuation of this funding is an absolute necessity," concluded Schmid in his prepared statement.