Protect HIV/AIDS funding

Heath Cleveland

In light of an estimated budget shortfall as high as $27 billion, it’s hard to imagine that the Texas Senate will spare many programs from cuts in this week’s vote, much less increase their funding. Despite the urge to Sharpie away or ignore any program that may not lead to tax reductions, state representatives and senators who are eager to impress voters with their muscles of frugality should keep in mind that a penny saved isn’t always a penny earned — and sometimes saving pennies today can kill people tomorrow. Especially when it comes to the Texas HIV Medication Program.

The Texas HIV Medication Program provides medication to treat HIV and HIV-related opportunistic infections for those living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. Currently, the program saves the lives of more than 14,000 low-income individuals and its roster is expected to climb to more than 16,000 by 2013 due to the rising number of people living with HIV and a high unemployment rate. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the program is facing an estimated budget shortfall of $19.2 million over the 2012-13 fiscal years.

Regardless of its benefits, the life-saving program is on the chopping block this legislative session and, while the Senate Finance Committee understands this need and has recommended fully funding the program, the House voted against including the funds in their budget and even voted down an amendment to restore full-funding to the THMP. If the THMP were to go underfunded this legislative session, many HIV/AIDS patients in Texas would be unable to gain access to the medication they need and die as a result. Additionally, the financial burden of care would be shifted to hospitals and emergency rooms, a cost that would eventually end up in taxpayers’ laps anyway if the patients are unable to pay.

But why?

For one, if there is not enough funding for the increased demand, then, since THMP is considered to be the “payer of last resort,” the people seeking help will probably have no other means of affording the medication that can cost up to $30,000 per year, according to AIDS Services of Austin.

Secondly, HIV/AIDS patients build up resistance to the medications they take over time. When this happens, a person being treated for HIV would have to change to second-line or third-line treatments that contain medications that are often newer, less likely to have a generic alternative and are much more expensive. If the THMP can’t afford the change in treatments for the individuals it already serves, then it will have to make its guidelines for qualification stricter, which would leave many without medication.

Considering that HIV is a progressive disease that can often be debilitating, many people living with HIV/AIDS will be unable to work at some point.
This means that HIV/AIDS patients not only often lose their income, but also their jobs and insurance (if they even had insurance through their employer in the first place). This situation is especially problematic for HIV/AIDS patients, because going off HIV medication temporarily will almost immediately make them more susceptible to disease and cause them to develop resistance to their medication, making treatment even more expensive and difficult.

For the estimated 84,000 people living with HIV in Texas, and the increasing numbers of people being diagnosed with HIV each year, the THMP is a lifeline. Not providing the necessary funding to provide proper care to the thousands who need it would be cruel and needless, not to mention that its fiscal benefits are questionable. This budgeting cycle, let your senators and representatives know about the importance of this program.