Main Category: HIV / AIDS
Article Date: 08 Oct 2011 – 0:00 PDT

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“If ever passed, this spending bill would set back the progress we are making in preventing HIV and providing basic care and treatment for those who have HIV/AIDS in our country,” commented Carl Schmid, Deputy Executive Director of The AIDS Institute.

House Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Denny Rehberg (R-MT) introduced a fiscal year 2012 spending bill that guts many programs, including health reform, and resurrects non-science based prevention policies.

Most disappointing is how the bill would impede prevention. Rehberg’s bill would cut by nearly $33 million funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. This is despite an estimated 50,000 new HIV infections each year and over 230,000 people unaware of their infection. The U.S. government invests only about 3 percent of its HIV funding in prevention. The lifetime cost of caring and treating one person with HIV is approximately $360,000. In order to help achieve the goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy to reduce the number of new infections and increase testing levels by 2015, the President has proposed an increase of $57 million for HIV prevention in FY12.

On top of cutting CDC’s budget, the bill would ban federal funding of syringe exchange programs, a scientifically proven method to prevent HIV and other infections while not increasing drug use, and would resurrect failed abstinence only until marriage programs. Additionally, the bill would decimate the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program by cutting its budget from $105 million to $20 million, eliminate all Title X spending, which funds HIV testing programs for women, and the entire Prevention and Public Health Fund.

The House bill proposes to flat fund the entire Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which provides care and treatment to over 550,000 low-income people with HIV/AIDS. It fails to address the crisis in the Ryan White AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). There are currently over 8,500 people in nine states on ADAP waiting lists and over 445 people in six states who have been disenrolled from the program due to budget constraints and growing enrollment. The AIDS Institute and its partners have been advocating for an increase of at least $106 million. The President has requested a $55 million increase. In order to address the current wait list, an increase of approximately $98 million would be required.

Chairman Rehberg’s bill also prevents implementation of much of the Affordable Care Act, which once fully implemented, would both bring many people with HIV/AIDS into lifesaving care and treatment for the first time and help to prevent HIV.

The one bright spot in the bill is Rehberg’s proposal to increase medical research spending at the National Institutes of Health by $1 billion.

“While we realize we are living in very difficult fiscal times, this bill is not just about making difficult funding decisions, but about resurrecting many controversial policies that will never pass the Congress nor be signed by the President,” commented Michael Ruppal, Executive Director of The AIDS Institute. “As Congress finalizes its FY12 spending bill, The AIDS Institute will work with the House, Senate and the Administration to increase, rather than cut funding for prevention and adequately fund all parts of the Ryan White Program, including ADAP. Additionally, we will work to defeat all extreme policy riders.

The bill (HR 3070) has not been formally considered by the House Appropriations Subcommittee. The Senate Appropriations Committee already has passed its own version of the bill. Since Congress has not passed any spending measures, the government is currently operating under a short term continuing resolution.

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