by Januari Leo, Director of Public Affairs
Last week’s mayhem over new health care legislation, now dead for the time being, highlights how decisions made in Washington impact the lives of people living with HIV. It’s worth looking at the federal role in HIV care in the United States.
The Ryan White program, which has long been a federal safety net provider for people living with HIV who have no other way to pay for medical, vision and dental care, has been fully funded under President Trump’s proposed budget, despite an 18 percent cut to the Department of Health and Human Services. However, the Affordable Care Act has made access to insurance possible by eliminating denial due to pre-existing conditions, enabling more and more people living with HIV to take advantage of more comprehensive marketplace plans.
According to the Houston Ryan White Office of Support, Houston currently has over $1 million dollars allotted to serve 1,700 people living with HIV through the purchase of marketplace plans. This allows those who are eligible to receive care beyond what Ryan White can provide, and with people over the age of 50 making up almost half of the current HIV population, enhanced coverage is needed now more than ever.
Especially in Houston, people living with HIV need access to affordable insurance. As we’ve said before, Houston is inordinately impacted by the HIV/AIDS crisis. According to the Houston Health Department, one out of every 200 Houstonians report living with HIV. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has ranked Houston 12th in the nation for new cases of HIV. There were 22,500 people living with HIV in Houston/Harris County. The increased access to broader health care made possible through the ACA has also had an impact on state level programs. According to the Texas AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), which provides life-saving HIV medications to those who can’t afford them, there has been a decrease of over 1,600 enrollees in the past year. This is largely attributed to the work local jurisdictions have done enrolling eligible clients in ACA marketplace plans. While ADAP provides only medications that treat HIV, ACA plans offer coverage for diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, and any number of other ailments a person may be facing.
People are living longer, healthier lives thanks to improved medications, greater access to health care, and the ability to not be denied or pay more for insurance due to their HIV diagnosis. We need to keep moving forward, not backward when it comes to the treatment and prevention of HIV.