Obama Marks World AIDS Day With Funding Increases

President Barack Obama marked World AIDS Day by announcing a $50 million funding boost for U.S. HIV/AIDS programs.

“We’re committing an additional $15 million for the Ryan White program that supports care provided by HIV medical clinics across the country,” the president said. An additional $35 million will go to state AIDS Drug Assistance Programs, or ADAPs, that pay for HIV medications for uninsured and low-income patients who cannot afford the drugs due to inadequate insurance coverage.

Former President Bill Clinton, speaking at the event by video from Florida, emphasized the government’s role in fighting AIDS: “The AIDS epidemic is coming back in America … and the spending programs have been pared back, especially those that require state match for budgetary reasons. In 2014, if the provisions of the health care bill providing universal care come in, we’ll be able to overcome that. Meanwhile we are stuck with where we are,” he said.

Due to squeezed budgets, some states have been cutting back on HIV/AIDS drug programs. That has expanded the numbers of patients waiting to get antiretrovirals and other drugs used to treat HIV and AIDS or its side effects, mental health conditions or opportunistic infections.

But in New York City, the city with the highest number of people in the country infected with HIV, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley announced a new strategy to provide medicines immediately to any person diagnosed with HIV, according to The Associated Press. The standard protocol for HIV medication had been to postpone drugs until an HIV patient’s immune system is weakened.

The costs for the new protocol – as much as $15,000/year – would fall on private insurers and the state’s ADAP program, according to New York City health officials.

Bringing down the cost of HIV medicines has been a long-term problem for HIV/AIDS policy experts, but today the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors announced a deal with Gilead Sciences “to extend additional voluntary discounts and rebates” on drugs bought by the state programs and to maintain a price freeze on drugs covered by ADAPs.

The additional $35 million from the federal government will help get people with HIV off state ADAP waitlists, said Murray Penner, director of NASTAD. “We are grateful for it, especially in these tough economic times.  But it doesn’t address all of the need. It does depend on how the $35 million is distributed and what future commitments there are for continuing that funding,” Penner said. But with federal action, in addition to the agreement with Gilead, Penner said it’s a move in the right direction.