May 23, 2006
The Ryan White CARE Act reauthorization bill that received a U.S. Senate committee's approval Wednesday could help solve Alabama's long-running difficulties in supplying AIDS drugs to poor patients, according to advocates.
The measure changes the federal formula for allocating funds among the states. Some AIDS advocates criticized the existing formula for favoring states and cities hit earliest in the epidemic while shortchanging HIV/AIDS patients in Southern and rural areas. The measure, passed by a 19-1 vote by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, channels more money to areas hit later.
Under the bill, Alabama would receive $5 million in additional funding, and about $3 million of that would go to Alabama's AIDS Drug Assistance Program, said Kathie Hiers, executive director of AIDS Alabama. That would be enough to remove people from the state's ADAP waiting list, she said. The bill now faces the full Senate and may go to the House in June, Hiers said.
For years, Alabama has relied on pharmaceutical firms' charity to provide AIDS drugs to hundreds of patients. Last year, Alabama's ADAP ran out of money, and health officials informed doctors that 200 patients might lose access to free drugs. Alabama's Legislature responded with a $1 million emergency appropriation.
While the new bill may help, there is still too little money to provide medical care to AIDS patients, said Dr. Michael Saag, director of University of Alabama-Birmingham's 1917 AIDS Clinic. The state school absorbs a $1 million annual loss from the clinic, but seven other Alabama AIDS clinics rely on Ryan White funding and are having financial difficulties. "What good are the drugs if there are no doctors there?" Saag asked.