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N.C. to Help AIDS Patients Get Drug Aid
  CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Help is on the way for more than 960 low-income North Carolinians with HIV who need money to pay for anti-viral drugs, state health officials said.
The Legislature recently appropriated $2.75 million in extra money for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. That money, coupled with extra aid promised by the federal government, will allow all waiting patients to get assistance, said Steve Sherman, program coordinator.
Most will begin receiving benefits in early September; the rest will get help later in the fall.
North Carolina has the largest waiting list of 10 states targeted by the federal government for $20 million in extra help, Sherman said. North Carolina residents make up about half of those waiting nationwide, he said.
Sherman said North Carolina's waiting list has been large for various reasons, including the poor economy, with layoffs and plant closings, as well as the rising number of HIV cases in the state.
North Carolina's eligibility guidelines for ADAP are the lowest in the country, Sherman said. That means patients must have very low incomes to even apply.
To be eligible, North Carolina patients must have a family income of less than 125 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $11,600 for one person and $23,500 for a family of four.
Advocates said Thursday they'll believe help is coming when they see it.
``It would be great, if it actually happened,'' said Patrick Church, a case manager at Charlotte's Metrolina AIDS Project, which provides education and counseling.
MAP alone has more than 50 low-income clients waiting for help to buy drugs. Some have been waiting for about a year.
Sherman said Gov. Mike Easley proposed an extra $4.2 million for the program this year, and legislators came through with a lesser amount. He said they got pressure from AIDS advocates and wanted to reduce the waiting list.
``The General Assembly has for quite a number of years recognized the importance of the AIDS Drug Assistance Program,'' Sherman said. ``Even in prior years, when the program did not get any additional resources, we also did not lose any resources. Quite a number of health and human services programs have been forced to take reductions.''
The first 585 people on the waiting list will start getting drug assistance from the state in the next few weeks, Sherman said. The rest will be helped by the federal program, which will deliver drugs directly to patients.
As new anti-viral medicines help people with HIV live longer, the demand for ADAP will continue to rise, Sherman said.
``Until we have a vaccine or a cure, our best strategy to avoid future costs is prevention,'' he said. There will never, ever be enough money to care for everybody for everything.''
Information from: The Charlotte Observer, http://www.charlotte.com
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