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With possible eligibility cuts, funding shortages, Florida's AIDS Drug Assistance Program remains in crisis
 
 
  By Marcos Restrepo | 04.23.11 | 1:24 pm floridaindependent.com
 
The Bureau of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis is hosting the first of four public hearings in the state on potential changes Monday. It will be held 1 p.m. at the Betty Easley Center, 4075 Esplanade Way, in SouthWood. Another hearing will be held in Tampa, followed by two in Miami.
 
On Monday, the Florida Department of Health will hold the first of several public debates to decide whether to reduce eligibility to Florida's AIDS Drug Assistance Program (aka ADAP) from 400 percent of the federal poverty level to 200 percent.
 
In other words: A person who earns $30,000 a year would not qualify for ADAP. HIV/AIDS drugs cost between $10,000 and $20,000 a year.
 
Florida already has the longest waiting list in the U.S. for people seeking to receive their HIV/AIDS medication through the state- and federally funded ADAP.
 
Michael Rajner, legislative director of the Florida GLBT Caucus, tells The Florida Independent that if reduced eligibility is approved, anybody above 200 percent of the federal poverty level will have to go off their medications, causing drug resistance.
 
Rajner, who relies on ADAP himself, says that if the eligibility reduction is approved he would not qualify for drugs and would not be financially capable of affording his medicine, forcing him to perhaps discontinue all HIV treatment. He says that he is already suffering from an opportunistic infection, and that his health would continue to decline.
 
"It is great that the state is allowing an opportunity for public input on these changes to ADAP," Rajner adds, "but any changes to the program at the state level will dramatically impact and harm local programs" throughout the state.
 
As an example of this impact, Rajner says that the state is also looking to reduce eligibility according to the number of a person's T-cells. If your T-cells are below 500, you qualify for treatment, but Florida is looking to reduce this. So unless your T-cells fall below 200, which is a way to define AIDS, you will not receive access to your medications.
 
The AIDS Institute released a statement Thursday calling on all Floridians to oppose the Florida Department of Health's Bureau of HIV/AIDS proposal to reduce eligibility for HIV/AIDS patients.
 
Michael Ruppal, executive director of The AIDS Institute, said in a written statement:
 
"With almost 8,000 people on ADAP waiting lists nationwide and 3,807 of those in Florida alone, it is clear that the need is significant. Reducing the eligibility to further limit the number of people accessing services only compounds the problem and puts many more lives at risk." He went on to say, "This is a time to take action and tell the state how reducing the eligibility criteria for HIV/AIDS services will hurt those in need."
 
The statement adds that the AIDS Insurance Continuation Program, as well as the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS and possibly more HIV/AIDS programs and services are also looking at reductions.
 
Will Rothschild works for Rothschild and Maultsby Media, which handles media relation for Welvista, a South Carolina-based health care network that provides medications at no cost to the uninsured who do not qualify for Medicaid, Medicare or V.A. insurance, and those who cannot afford to pay for insurance coverage on their own. He says the sustainability of ADAP in Florida and 10 other states is in jeopardy. ADAP ran out of money last year, and the federal allocation is not going up this year.
 
"It is likely the Florida ADAP will completely run out of money by December or January," Rothschild says.
 
"In Florida, the legislature is just removing themselves of taking care of their citizens," says Mark King, who manages My Fabulous Disease. "I have been living with HIV for 30 years. I know I wouldn't be alive today if it wasn't for medications. We are always telling people know your status, because there are treatments to help you, but then, well you have to be on a waiting list if you want any of those."
 
"It is astounding that Florida would have such a huge waiting list," King says. "Rather than address the waiting list by funding things properly, they decided to get rid of the waiting list by changing the eligibility requirements, by knocking everybody on it off the program all together."
 
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Thousands could be dropped from state HIV drug-assistance program
 
By TaMaryn Waters · Democrat Staff Writer · Published: April 23. 2011 2:00AM
 
Florida residents living with HIV and AIDS could have a tougher time getting life-saving medication if the state changes who will be eligible for free assistance.
 
More than 9,600 people statewide currently are getting free medication through the state's AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) based on income eligibility, but 3,800 people are on a waiting list, according to the Florida Department of Health's Bureau of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis.
 
The program is overloaded. More Floridians are losing their jobs and needing help to pay for medication.
 
Now, state officials are considering making income eligibility requirements more stringent, which could mean hundreds and possibly thousands of people would not be able to get the medications.
 
"Florida is in the worst shape," said Rob Renzi, executive director of Big Bend Cares, a Tallahassee nonprofit that serves more than 900 HIV-positive clients in the Big Bend.
 
"The housing market and the economy are worse here than in other places," he said. "As people lose jobs and as people lose their health insurance, they are rolling onto the programs they have not used in the past."
 
The Bureau of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis is hosting the first of four public hearings in the state on potential changes Monday. It will be held 1 p.m. at the Betty Easley Center, 4075 Esplanade Way, in SouthWood. Another hearing will be held in Tampa, followed by two in Miami.
 
Check back at Tallahassee.com for more.
 
 
 
 
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