SC AIDS/HIV health care providers fight for funding

At the Statehouse, as budget debate in the House Wednesday got fiery over funding a national golf tournament, AIDS patients and activists gathered outside the chamber to ask for restored funding. Initially left out of state spending altogether,  the state’s official AIDS task force has had $2.2 million added in an amendment. Dr. Bambi Gaddist, Chair of the SC HIV/AIDS Care Crisis Task Force says that even the $5.9 million level from the past two years is not enough.
“Given the new testing regimens that are out, the fact that they have expanded testing in hospitals where we are now identifying more positives and adding to the role of people  who are uninsured and need medication, we’re looking at a $7.8 million deficit now,” Gaddist says.
The Kaiser Family Foundation says South Carolina has the highest rate in the nation for heterosexual AIDS transmission. Most affected by this cut are people needing the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). These cuts will not allow new enrollment, she says, and it may cutback current levels. “It would mean that people who are currently on ADAP are at risk for being removed, it would impact the Department of Health and their policies around having to change when they start to treat. And then as we try to get results from the insurance companies and ask them to assist us as they have been in the past, with that continued and growing burden, it’s only going to be temporary,” insists Gaddist.
These drugs cost about $12,300 per patient each year. AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein says “It is not exaggeration to say that AIDS cuts kill.”
Medical professionals, like Dr. Gaddist, say the situation is very serious since they say they have exhausted their options for funding.
Yet, even legislators who are AIDS program advocates say full restoration of funds less likely this budget year. Orangeburg Rep. Jerry Govan says, “It’s going to take some heavy lifting to get more, because we are fighting such a huge deficit.”
He adds that he thinks that fellow legislators are beginning to realize the extent of the problem in South Carolina.”It is a public policy, public health concern,” says Govan.
Funding for ADAP and other health programs may come through federal matching funds, but nothing is assured from Congress at this point.