President Calls for an AIDS Free Generation in State of the Union Address
February 15, 2013
President Barack Obama's State of the Union (SOTU) Address, delivered Tuesday, February 12th, was a strong speech, laying out a relatively aggressive program for the administration on health care. The speech mentioned HIV in the context of the U.S.'s foreign policy, stating:
"So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades by connecting more people to the global economy; by empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve, and helping communities to feed, and power, and educate themselves; by saving the world's children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation, which is within our reach." (emphasis added)
The mention is encouraging because it is only the second time (out of four SOTU speeches) that the President has mentioned HIV in a State of the Union address (the first time was in 2010). Generally, the President has used special occasions such as speeches on World AIDS Day or the announcement of the National HIV/AIDS strategy to highlight the issue. The mention is also interesting since it uses the former Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton's formulation of "an AIDS-free generation" first announced in a speech at the National Institutes of Health in November 2011. The President has also previously adopted the same language, most notably on World AIDS Day 2011 committing the Administration to ending the HIV pandemic by fighting to reduce the disease "to zero."
For advocates of increasing domestic prevention, treatment, care and research the language is encouraging because it recommits the President in a major public address to focusing on the HIV epidemic and, of course, in order to reach an AIDS-free generation, the United States must also do so at home. To that end a new petition to "Commit Resources to Ensure an AIDS Free Generation," was authorized by the convening groups of the Federal AIDS Policy Partnership (FAPP) and Global AIDS Policy Partnership (GAPP) on the White House website's, "We the People" section. (See Announcements below).
In addition to the section highlighting HIV, the President discussed health care in the speech most notably in the opening section discussing the sequester and funding for government. President Obama noted that the "biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population." He then called for modest reforms to Medicare, offering savings at the rate of the "Simpson-Bowles" commission's plan to cut deficits. It is not clear what the exact amount such a cut would actually entail, although an estimate of the separate parts can be found here. He then defended the Affordable Care Act, noting that it is already helping to slow health care costs and suggested that another way to cut costs was to reduce subsidies to prescription drug companies and wealthy seniors.
The Republicans asked Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to deliver their response to the State of the Union, a speech heavily focused on taxes and regulation. The response strongly criticizes "Obamacare" for causing some people to "los[e] the health care they were happy with" and for creating requirements for businesses over 50 people that he deemed to be too expensive causing them to stop or slow hiring.. He additionally says of Medicare:
"I would never support any changes to Medicare that would hurt seniors like my mother. But anyone who is in favor of leaving Medicare exactly the way it is right now, is in favor of bankrupting it.
Republicans have offered a detailed and credible plan that helps save Medicare without hurting today's retirees. Instead of playing politics with Medicare, when is the President going to offer his plan to save it? Tonight would have been a good time for him to do it."
This section seemed odd to advocates in the health care field since, as noted above, Obama had specifically suggested making cuts at the level of the Simpson-Bowles plan. In any case, it is clear from the dueling speeches that health care will continue to be a major point of disagreement between the parties, a disagreement that will continue to play out as the Affordable Care Act is implemented.
The 2013 State of the Union speech with transcript can be found here.
The 2013 Republican State of the Union Response transcript can be found here.
The Simpson-Bowles Plan can be found here (Medicare savings are generally found on pp. 37-40).
This article was provided by AIDS United. It is a part of the publication AIDS United Policy Update. Visit AIDS United's website to find out more about their activities and publications.
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