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California Slashes HIV Funding Program
  California's Department of Health Services director refused to restore funding that had been stripped from a state AIDS program-- despite a directive to do so by outgoing Governor Gray Davis.
In a move that has left AIDS activists stunned and angry, the director of California's Department of Health Services on Friday refused to restore funding that had been stripped from a state AIDS program-- despite a directive to do so by outgoing Governor Gray Davis.
Last week AIDS organizations and medical groups across the state cheered when the governor restored $7 million in funding to the HIV Diagnostic Assay Program. This statewide program funds blood tests that help doctors accurately prescribe complicated drug combinations to tens of thousands of poor people living with HIV and AIDS. The $7 million had been cut during state budget negotiations in the summer, representing nearly 90 percent of the program's $8 million budget.
But cheers over the funds being restored quickly turned to jeers Friday when, on what was the last day of work for the outgoing administration, DHS Director Diana Bonta refused to implement Governor Davis' order.
"Diana Bonta's unilateral move to cut almost 90 percent from this crucial medical testing program despite Governor Davis' wishes shows not only incredible arrogance, but it underscores how out of touch many state bureaucrats truly are," said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. "Cutting medical care to poor people with AIDS is simply not the way to solve California's fiscal woes," he said.
The HIV Diagnostic Assay Program provides vouchers to low-income people with HIV to have expensive blood tests done that help determine their body's response to both the HIV virus itself and to the medications they may be taking. This type of close monitoring is considered essential to basic HIV health care.
"By and large, this program serves low-income people who would not otherwise be able to afford to pay for the tests or don't have some form of insurance," said Dana Van Gorder, director of state and local affairs at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.
Ged Kenslea, communications director for the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AEF), the largest AIDS organization in the United States, said "the state is paying for drugs that may not be working, but we won't know that until the patients start to fail on the drugs because there's no money to do the monitoring."
Kenslea said patients not monitored appropriately who fail their HIV medications will end up costing the state more money as they require more care from an already overburdened health care system. Approximately 70,000 people with HIV in California are eligible for the program, he said.
Part of the problem in restoring the funds, said Van Gorder, is that because of California's budget deficits, the state would be forced to take money from other health programs, something AIDS activists do not want to happen. "DHS was in the untenable position of having to figure out what other program to raid to replace that $7 million," Van Gorder said.
[Gay.com/PlanetOut.com Network, 11/17/03]
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