$5 Million Cut to Florida HIV/AIDS Home Health Program Takes Effect Amid Vocal OppositionCuts in state funding for a Florida program offering home health care services to individuals with HIV/AIDS took effect Friday, despite calls from patients, case managers and activists for state lawmakers to reconsider the reduction, the Miami Herald reports. The $5 million cut to the state's Medicaid Project AIDS Care program was the first step in Gov. Jeb Bush's (R) plan to eliminate $10 million from the program this year to help offset a $1.3 billion state budget deficit. Because of the cuts, thousands of individuals in the program will see a "drasti[c]" reduction in meals, companion services and other programs offered by the state. Twelve program services were eliminated altogether on Friday, including physical therapy, respiratory therapy, substance abuse treatment and the companionship program, while seven other services were scaled back. Beneficiaries will receive a maximum of five hours of personal care per month, down from seven hours per week; meals per person will decline from 62 to 27 per month. "I wish we wouldn't have to make these cuts. We did the best job we could," Bob Maryanski, administrator of the state Agency for Health Care Administration, which runs the Medicaid program, said. He added, "We tried to emphasize as many medical programs as we could. We did not cut any services in pharmacy."
'Killing the People'
While responsible for implementing the cuts, Maryanski nevertheless urged the program's 6,600 beneficiaries to voice their opposition to the cuts to state lawmakers. About 100 beneficiaries and activists recently demonstrated on the streets in Miami to show their disapproval for the reduction in benefits. Omar Lasserra, who has been HIV-positive for 20 years, said, "I wouldn't be walking if it weren't for this program. I hope the governor realizes that what they are doing is killing the people." Irma Weathers, a Miami case manager, noted that case managers and service providers will also be affected by the cuts, which state that case managers can only bill up to $2,000 per patient per month, down from $7,000. At least one case manager has shut down because of the cuts, the Herald reports. The state is "saying we don't need these programs. I am just blown [away]," Weathers said. The HIV/AIDS community is scheduled to hold another protest March 19 in Tallahassee (Valdes, Miami Herald, 3/3).