Monday, September 25, 2006
AIDS/HIV care money might leave New York
As local cases rise, Congress might shift some funding to Southern states.
Monday, September 25, 2006
By James T. Mulder
If testing for the AIDS virus becomes routine for everyone, Syracusans who test positive might have a hard time finding care, according to the coordinator of the Central New York HIV Care Network.
Stephen Waldron said at the same time the federal government is encouraging routine testing, Congress is considering legislation that would cut the amount of federal funding New York gets to help care for people with HIV and AIDS by as much as $78 million over four years.
"If you are promoting or encouraging or at some point requiring testing, the system needs to be able to respond with care," Waldron said. "It's only half of the equation to get people tested."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week recommended routine testing for all Americans ages 13 to 64, saying that an HIV test should be as common as a cholesterol check. HIV - short for human immunodeficiency virus - causes AIDS. HIV is spread most often through sexual contact, contaminated needles shared by drug users, infected blood and from infected women to their babies. The CDC estimates 250,000 Americans are infected and don't even know it.
There are 1,477 Central New Yorkers living with HIV and AIDS, about half of them Onondaga County residents.
Testing alone isn't the answer, according to Waldron.
"We are concerned that any emphasis on testing is matched with an emphasis on appropriate levels of funding," said Waldron, whose network links those living with and responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Central New York.
AIDS advocates are worried because bills pending in Congress would shift federal money spent on uninsured AIDS patients away from states like New York, New Jersey and California to Southern states. The bills would reauthorize the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act, the nation's largest HIV-specific grant program, for another five years. The program has a budget this year of about $2.1 billion. New York's share is about $349 million.
The bills would redirect some money from states like New York with large urban areas to more rural states like Alabama that have seen sharp increases in AIDS and HIV in recent years. Alabama's share of the Ryan White money would grow from $11 million to $18 million annually under a bill approved last week by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. James T. Walsh, R-Onondaga, oppose the new funding distribution formula.
Southern states need more money to combat the epidemic, but they should not get it at the expense of New York, which has more HIV and AIDS cases than any other state, Waldron said.
The proposals come at a time when the number of people in the region with HIV and AIDS is increasing, and the cost of caring for them is soaring, he said.
The active patient caseload at SUNY Upstate Medical University, the region's designated AIDS center, is about 700, up from about 350 four years ago, according to Waldron.
The numbers are growing because better treatments are helping infected people live longer, according to Waldron. The increase also reflects outreach efforts that encourage people to get tested, he said.
Medications to treat people with HIV and AIDS can cost $10,000 to $15,000 annually, he said. Ryan White money is used to help pay some drug costs for patients not covered by Medicaid or other health insurance.
Congress could take final action on the bills this week, Waldron said.