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Georgia creates waiting list for HIV/AIDS drugs (ADAP)
  July 1 2010
By Craig Schneider
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The state closed enrollment Thursday in a program that provides medication for low-income Georgians with AIDS and HIV, thereby creating a waiting list that could grow to 1,300 people in a year, health officials said.
Enrollment in the program has jumped 17 percent in the past year, to 5,700 people, as the hard economy left more people out of work and without insurance, said Dr. Anil Mangla, director of infectious disease for the state Division of Public Health.
Advocates said they are worried that the delay in access to the federal AIDS Drug Assistance Program could lead people to become sicker, with some developing full-blown AIDS and perhaps even dying.
"When people are diagnosed ... they often need to be on medication right away," said Lola Thomas, executive director of the AIDS Alliance of Northwest Georgia. Of the impending waits, she said, "It's devastating to the HIV community."
The drug assistance program -- which provides prescription medication for people who are poor, uninsured or under-insured -- would require an infusion of $11 million to eliminate the wait list, Mangla said. It receives $33.7 million in federal funding and $12.4 million in state money. The program has not suffered budget cuts, officials said, but it cannot keep up with the increasing demand.
The wait list would not affect people on the program, he said. But Thomas said she is concerned that people on the program can be kicked off if they do not reapply in time every six months, or do not pick up their medication within 60 days. They would then go on the waiting list.
Some are very sick or homeless, she said.
"A lot of these people are not as functional" as healthy people, she said. "It becomes difficult to keep up with the program."
She also worries that the waiting lists could grow beyond the official estimates, as more people lose their jobs and fall into poverty, homelessness and into the ranks of the uninsured. The costs of the needed prescription medications can be $10,000 a month.
Like many safety-net programs, the AIDS Drug Assistance Program has suffered in states around the country, with more than a dozen states closing enrollment and creating waiting lists, according to news reports. The cumulative number of AIDS cases reported in Georgia at the end of 2008 was 38,300, according to the HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mangla said it is unclear how long people will have to wait to enter the program, but he hoped some people could start receiving help after about a month. He said he expects the list to grow by 125 to 150 people per month. He also said some pharmaceutical companies may help people obtain drugs while they wait.
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