Changes in AIDS Epidemic Will Impacy Policy
Advocates Focusing on Changing Epidemic and the 1999 AIDS Budget
(WASHINGTON, DC) – As AIDS advocates and public officials study the dramatic
changes in the AIDS epidemic, members of Congress are weighing the impact
such changes will have on public policy and funding priorities.
At a Capitol Hill policy briefing for Congressional staff held on May 14, leading AIDS advocates, local and state activists and health officials, and top AIDS researchers reviewed the changing epidemic, particularly the shifts in affected populations and the impact of breakthrough AIDS drugs, which have slashed the AIDS death rate nearly in half nationwide. The briefing was sponsored by the Log Cabin Education Fund AIDS Policy Institute, a non-partisan organization, and was co-chaired by Congressman John Porter (R-IL), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS and Education, and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA) of the House Commerce Committee.
Dr. Oren Cohen, Deputy Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, comprehensively reviewed the state of HIV/AIDS research, and tracked the epidemiology of HIV. Cohen stressed that new breathrough comibination drug therapies have brought the AIDS death rate down dramatically, "but without access to these treatments, they are no good."
Several of the participants in the briefing focused on the success of the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), funded through Title II of the Ryan White CARE Act and administered by state AIDS directors. ADAP is a non-bureaucratic program which provides access to HIV/AIDS drugs to patients who are underinsured and do not qualify for Medicaid.
"The ADAP program is crucial for people with AIDS," said Dr. Michael Maurer of the Philadelphia Ryan White HIV Planning Council, who is under treatment with new AIDS drugs. "We hear a lot about the drugs available in combination therapy, but as you can see from my story there are many issues connected to their use and availability." Maurer detailed his 29 different medical prescriptions, and how access to each drug is inhibited by cost and lack of coverage outside ADAP and Ryan White funding.
Dr. Gus Birkhead, Director of the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute, spoke on the success of the New York ADAP, which has become the model for other states around the country. Birkhead cited increased federal funding for Title II Ryan White ADAP, in partnership with increased state appropriations, as the means by which the New York ADAP expanded its formulary of AIDS drugs and dramatically increased access for people with HIV/AIDS.
Others stressed that the success in combating AIDS thus far is due to the primary research in the public sector, combined with the successful research and development in the private sector. Sam Kazman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute warned that overregulation of drug development and price controls on new drugs would cost lives, and past abuses by the Food and Drug Adminstration, such as excessive delays in drug approval, have already cost lives.
"More than any other public health issue, AIDS has highlighted the grotesque consequences of FDA policy," Kazman said.
Presenters also focused on shifts in the AIDS population. Martin Ornelas-Quintero, executive director of LLEGO, stressed that "out of a sampling of 25 states used the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the largest percent increase of HIV/AIDS cases was in the Latino/a community." Todd Summers, Deputy Director of the White Office of National AIDS Policy said that while gay men still make up the bulk of AIDS cases in the United States, AIDS has become the leading cause of death for young, African American women.
AIDS advocates have been meeting with Members of Congress over several weeks as the Fiscal Year 1999 budget has been advancing in the House and Senate. Log Cabin Republicans met with Congressman Bob Livingston (R-LA), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and the office of Congressman John Kasich (R-OH), chairman of the House Budget Committee and discussed the importance of prioritizing ADAP and saving lives of people with AIDS in the federal budget. The leadership meetings are the centerpiece of an ongoing lobbying effort by Log Cabin Republicans to ensure that Congress continue its strong support of AIDS funding, and took place one day after the House Budget Committee circulated an initial draft of its budget resolution.
Log Cabin Republicans is the nation's largest gay Republican organization, with 50+ chapters nationwide, a full-time lobbying staff in Washington and a federal political action committee. Ensuring necessary funding for AIDS programs is a top Log Cabin Republicans legislative priority.