Senator Coburn Introduces Ryan White Reauthorization Bill
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) on Tuesday introduced a bill to reauthorize and amend the Ryan White CARE Act, the Daily Oklahoman/International News Service reports (Casteel, Daily Oklahoman/International News Service, 3/1). The law authorizing Ryan White programs -- which fund HIV/AIDS care and services nationwide -- expired on Sept. 30, 2005 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/1). Coburn's bill calls for the creation of new funding formulas that would take into account HIV prevalence, would require that 75% of CARE funding is spent on primary care, and would increase annual funding for AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (CQ HealthBeat, 2/28). The bill also addresses the following: expanding access to testing; removing barriers to diagnosis and ensuring that about 1.5 million rapid tests are available annually; making HIV testing a routine procedure in facilities receiving federal funding and for patients covered by federal health programs, specifically pregnant women and newborns; and ensuring that people who test HIV-positive receive appropriate counseling and care (Bill summary, 2/28). Coburn in a statement said his legislation "prioritiz[es] early diagnosis and access to primary health care and treatment and increas[es] accountability for how funds are spent" (Coburn release, 2/28). The bill comes as the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the issue Wednesday. Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) plans to introduce a companion measure in the House (Heil, CongressDaily, 2/28).
The AIDS Institute welcomed Coburn's legislation, although it does not "endorse each and every aspect" of it, Marylin Merida, president of the institute's board of directors, said. The AIDS Institute believes that the measure is "a beginning point for the formal reauthorization of this program" and if enacted, "will provide additional care and treatment to more people living with HIV/AIDS across the nation than the current law," executive director Gene Copello said (AIDS Institute release, 2/28). The AIDS Healthcare Foundation also expressed support for Coburn's bill. "This timely proposal will be an effective tool in ensuring the best use of federal dollars and improving delivery of HIV/AIDS care and services to those Americans most in need," AHF President Michael Weinstein said (AHF release, 2/28). AIDS Project Los Angeles executive director Craig Thompson cautioned against what he describes as a "top-down funding scheme" that would affect how local jurisdictions spend Ryan White funds. States and cities "should not be forced to cut back on vital support services such as mental health services, child care, food banks, treatment education and case management in order to satisfy an ill-considered mandate from Washington," Thompson said (APLA release, 2/28). "Many of Senator Coburn's proposals would undermine the ability of hard-hit communities across the country to provide medical care and critical support services to uninsured and underinsured people living with HIV/AIDS," said Patricia Bass, chairman of the Communities Advocating Emergency AIDS Relief Coalition (CQHealthBeat, 2/28).