As the HIV/AIDS epidemic enters its fourth decade, powerful antiretroviral drugs give patients hope at living long and relatively normal lives, but those drugs come with a hefty price tag and many patients rely on government assistance programs to obtain them. Florida's AIDS Drugs Assistance Program has already instituted waiting lists, and now a new rule could cut thousands more patients off from the life-saving drugs.
ADAP helps pay for drugs for 9,600 low income Floridians with HIV or AIDS. More than 3500 more sit, with their lives on the line, on a waiting list for help.
Currently people at 400% of the poverty level or lower are eligible for the program. The state is now considering lowering eligibility to 200% of the federal poverty level.
That means that only people who make $21,780 a year would be eligible. To put that in perspective, the cost of Atripla, a combination of drugs in a single pill and one of the few HIV regimens in which patients take only one pill a day, costs about $22,200 a year in America. Several other regimens which require patients to take more medications could cost significantly more.
That makes it nearly impossible for low-income victims without health insurance to buy the drugs without some sort of help.
"We know 100 percent of people are opposed to this," Thomas Liberti, chief of the state Bureau of HIV/AIDS, tells TheBody.com. "We don't want to take drugs away from people."
Yet, with more cuts coming from both the state and federal level, the bureau is facing limited resources.
Several patients in Miami showed up at a recent public hearing about the possible changes held in Miami.
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"Me, two kids and a job equals death,'' pleaded a Fort Lauderdale woman named Karen, 50, who has been HIV-positive for 28 years and did not want her last name published. "I can't afford a job. As a mother, I have to choose. I have to provide for my children, keep a roof over their head and give them food. But if I choose to be self-sufficient, my children will slowly watch me die.
"You have the money to send somebody to the moon, but you don't have the money to save the life of someone here on earth? How dare you!''
The HIV drugs are most effective when started early and taken daily. Missing doses due to being unable to pay for the drugs could lead to resistance, and the patients may be faced with the fate of having to take even more expensive drugs to survive. The drugs also help with HIV prevention, as people on the medicine are less likely to infect others.