Texas Board of Health Will Not Revise Eligibility Requirements for State AIDS Drug Assistance Program
HIV-positive individuals and AIDS advocates on Thursday "gained a small but significant victory" when the Texas Board of Health tabled a proposal to restructure eligibility requirements for the state's AIDS Drug Assistance Program, the Houston Chronicle reports. Instead, the board directed the health department to find other ways to save money and report back in June (Villafranca, Houston Chronicle, 2/27). Currently, the Texas HIV Medication Program allows about 12,500 low-income HIV-positive Texans to buy prescription drugs at a greatly reduced cost. Health department officials expect a $34 million shortfall in the program's budget over the next two-year cycle; the program's annual budget is $58 million. As a result, health department officials had proposed revised eligibility requirements under which people earning more than 140% of the federal poverty level, or $12,400 annually, would no longer be eligible for the program. Current requirements allow beneficiaries who earn up to 200% of the poverty level, or $17,720 annually, to participate in the program. If they had been approved, the new requirements would have effectively cut 2,500 people from the program's rolls by August 2005 and kept up to 50 new applicants from qualifying each month (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/21).
Legislature Should Address Funding, Advocates Say
The health department received 800 letters opposing the changes, as AIDS advocates said that the new requirements would have made it "much more difficult" for HIV-positive patients to obtain antiretroviral drugs, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "We heard a resounding 'don't want to go there' from the public," Sharilyn Stanley, associate commissioner for disease control and prevention, said, adding, "We clearly have to make some changes in the program to live within the dollars that we have currently allocated." Stanley said that the health department may consider implementing copayments, temporarily halting new enrollments, tightening medical criteria for admission or asking cities that receive federal AIDS funding to help the state pay for the program. "If there are not new dollars appropriated, then we have to change the program and that will mean that we can't continue to enroll everyone who wants to access the program," she said (Kirsch, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 2/28). "It's kind of a mixed victory," Tracy Wilson of the Houston-based AIDS Coalition of Texas Now, said, adding that her group wants the Legislature to decide how much money the HIV drug program should receive (Houston Chronicle, 2/27). Health Commissioner Eduardo Sanchez has also said that it will be up to the Legislature to allocate money to the program to keep it running. According to the Associated Press, the health department has asked for more funding for the program in the coming two-year budget cycle. Rep. Garnet Coleman (D), who supports the ADAP program, commended Sanchez and the board for their decision. "The future of this program now rests with the Legislature," he said (Shannon, Associated Press, 2/27).