Florida AIDS Funding To Be Cut Despite Rise in Number of New HIV Cases
State and federal funding for HIV/AIDS outreach and treatment programs in Florida is being cut, despite a "soaring" rise in the number of HIV/AIDS patients needing assistance, the Miami Herald reports. A 21% increase in the number of new HIV cases, partly attributed to aggressive outreach programs that find and test people, and a 62% drop in AIDS-related deaths over the past five years have led to an increase in the number of people seeking medical assistance, according to the state department of health. Judith Williams, chief administrator of Miami-Dade County's HIV/AIDS Planning Council, said, "Those numbers are steadily rising. You have a program that's not increasing (in funding). Something has to give." In 2002, the state received more than $227 million in federal funding to help cover the medical expenses of uninsured and underinsured HIV-positive patients, $100 million of which was used to cover prescription expenses. An additional $72 million was used to cover the medical costs of patients in six metro areas around the state, according to the Herald.
Focus on Prescription Drugs
Florida receives federal funding to help cover medical, dental and support services for HIV-positive people under Title I of the Ryan White CARE Act. While funding is expected to increase $121 million this year under the long-delayed federal spending bill, the majority of the increase is allocated for prescription drug costs and funding for other services will "likely" remain at 2002 levels, according to the Herald. AIDS advocates said that the increase in prescription drug funding "come[s] at the expense of other services" and it represents a congressional focus on international and terror-related concerns rather than on domestic issues, the Herald reports. The state Legislature is currently reviewing a proposal to eliminate Medicaid services for most of the 26,000 people in the state's Medically Needy program, which offers assistance to those who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to cover their own medical and pharmaceutical expenses. The state last year contributed $116 million to the program. Florida AIDS Action estimates that 1,200 of the people currently in the program are HIV-positive. If the cuts are approved, those people and any newly diagnosed HIV-positive people who enter the system would need to seek assistance from the federal Title I Ryan White program. Sixty gay-rights advocates on Wednesday plan to protest the proposed cut in discussions with Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and other legislators. With the prospect of more HIV cases and no increase in funding, many agencies are considering capping enrollment or creating waiting lists for their programs (Robinson, Miami Herald, 3/15).
Cuts to HIV/AIDS Housing Assistance Programs
Federal housing grants for HIV-positive people also will be "sharply" cut this year in Florida's Broward and Miami-Dade counties and will be flat-funded in Palm Beach County, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reports. The Broward County grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will fall 21%, or $1.5 million, and the Miami-Dade grant will fall by 15%, or $2 million. These funding cuts will be made despite increases in the number of new HIV infections, which are up 44% in Palm Beach County, 30% in Broward County and 18% in Miami-Dade County. HUD determines the amount of the yearly grants by comparing the number of new AIDS cases locally to the number of new AIDS cases nationally. The number of new AIDS cases dropped in Florida over the past year, due in part to strong medical care, which prevented disease progression in many HIV-positive patients, an unnamed HUD spokesperson said. Therefore, South Florida's recent jump in newly diagnosed HIV-positive patients did not translate into an increase in aid because the Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS program does not take new HIV infections into consideration. HIV/AIDS agencies say that the cuts will result in additions to the "hundreds" already on subsidized housing waiting lists and will increase the chance that HIV-positive people will become homeless (LaMendola, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 3/14).