February 24, 2005
Reduced federal budget increases and new distribution formulas are expected to cut Utah's $3.2 million Ryan White appropriation by about 12 percent this fiscal year. Community advocates and state Department of Health officials say the cuts could deprive hundred of patients of life-saving medications and create lengthy waiting lists for the program.
Program advocate Stuart Merrill said 30 to 40 Utah families would be immediately affected by the cuts and up to 200 patients could eventually lose their access to AIDS drugs.
"This is an emotional issue," said state Department of Health Director David Sundwall. "If you don't have those drugs you die. They are expensive antiviral medications, but through Ryan White we can get them at bargain prices," Sundwall explained. "Most of the people these help are working, taxpaying, productive members of society. We can now treat this as a chronic illness, like diabetes. But we need these medications."
The Ryan White money provides stop-gap assistance for services not covered by Medicaid or Medicare. The health department distributes the funds to health care facilities that serve eligible patients.
Merrill said he has notified several legislators of the potential crisis. Sundwall said he personally will lobby the Legislature to compensate for the reduced federal allocation, but he has not yet spoken with Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. to assess the administration's position.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard (R-Logan), co-chairperson of the Executive Appropriations Committee, said it is unlikely that an appropriation can get inserted in the state budget to cover the lost federal funds because the budget must be finalized by Friday, and most of the state's available revenues are already earmarked.