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South Carolina to see more AIDS funding
  Congress OKs bill to help low-income patients nationwide; Southern states will get extra money
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South Carolina will get more money next year for HIV/AIDS prevention and care. But it is not yet clear how much.
Saturday, Congress approved a bill to reauthorize the Ryan White Care Act, which pays for medicine and care for low-income people who have HIV/AIDS.
Under an earlier version of the bill, South Carolina stood to gain about $1.8 million over last year's funds, for a total of just less than $22 million. But the amounts actually available will depend on the appropriations process, which won't start until early next year when Congress reconvenes.
The bill's passage marks the end of a long, contentious period among lawmakers. Senators in New York and New Jersey had stalled a House-passed bill that would funnel money away from their states. But House members later held up the revised, Senate-passed version, tying it to other legislation. In the end, the bill made it just before the 109th Congress adjourned.
"Thank God," said Bambi Gaddist, executive director of the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council.
"It was something that was very important for the Southern states," said Lynda Kettinger, director of the STD/HIV division of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
The Ryan White law governs how $2.1 billion is divided among states. For the first time, the law allows the counting of HIV cases, not just AIDS cases when allotting money. As a result, Southern states - which account for 46 percent of new HIV cases in the United States - will get extra money.
The new Ryan White money is much-needed in South Carolina, where the AIDS Drug Assistance program has a $3 million shortfall, and a waiting list of 324 people as of Nov. 29.
More than 3,000 people received drug assistance in 2005, and Ryan White-funded providers helped more than 6,000 people with medical care, housing, transportation and other needs.
"Finally, the needs of the South were heard ... more services and better medical care for low-income people living with HIV disease," said Kathie Hiers, co-chairwoman of the Southern AIDS Coalition, which has been one of the chief advocates for the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act.
The money will greatly help people in rural areas, especially those who have difficulty getting medicines and services, Gaddist said.
But one thing the law does not address is the need for more physicians who are willing and equipped to treat patients with HIV, she added. Physicians are poorly paid for treating patients who are covered by Medicaid.
"That's why we need state funding to assist us and make greater incentives available," Gaddist said.
Advocates are also asking the state for more money for the drug assistance program. Of the program's $14.25 million budget in 2005, the state contributed $500,000.
Reach Reid at (803) 771-8378.
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