President Bush delivered his final budget to Congress last week, and in it he put an exclamation point on eight years of malign neglect of AIDS in the United States. That neglect has spawned a treatment crisis right here in America.
There are more Americans living with HIV/AIDS today than at any time in the epidemic, according to Bush’s own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The epidemic has grown by an estimated 40,000 people every year.
Nearly half of those people are not receiving care for their infection and, thus, are spiraling toward an expensive and preventable death.
There are many reasons why so many HIV-positive Americans aren’t in care, including that a huge number may be unaware of their infections. But one reason is surely that they don’t have the access they need.
The epidemic has hit low-income and uninsured people hard. While two-thirds of the U.S. population is privately insured, only 16 percent of those getting treated for HIV are. (All of the rest depend on public insurance programs.)
As the epidemic has exploded — particularly among African-Americans, who account for half of all new infections — Bush and his congressional allies have nickel and dimed the effort to control it. Waiting lists for drug insurance programs have stretched into the hundreds, with states around the country being forced to cap enrollment and limit the medications covered. AIDS clinics and social service providers nationwide are facing similar hard choices.
The administration’s response?
Bush proposed an overall increase of $1.1 million, or less than 1 percent, for AIDS drug insurance programs and public clinics. But as AIDS Healthcare Foundation points out, that pittance looks even worse when you account for the annual hike in what drug companies are allowed to charge those programs. If you factor that in, the budget item then amounts to a $27 million cut.
As a result, thousands of patients would be turned away from the life-saving treatment they need in the year ahead.
This callousness by the Bush administration cannot be tolerated.
Kai Wright is publications editor for the Black AIDS Institute, which published the “State of AIDS in Black America 2008,” at www.BlackAIDS.org. He can be reached at email@example.com.