Budget Crunch Means Texas Could Cut Off HIV Medicine
January 17, 2003
Seventy-nine people -- many of them HIV patients who depend on the Texas HIV Medication Program to survive -- pleaded with officials in Austin Thursday not to cut their access to the lifesaving drugs. "Can any one of you look me in the eyes and sentence me to a slow, painful death without medication?" asked Bill Cooksey of Houston, who has HIV and receives state assistance to buy his expensive medications. "Is my life not worth a little red ink on a page? I think it is," he said.Adapted from:
The Texas Department of Health says a $37 million deficit in the HIV agency's budget is forcing the state to consider cuts in the program. A decision is expected Feb. 27. Officials are considering whether to reduce qualifying income levels for participants, making only the poorest of the poor eligible. The change would affect as many as 2,500 people -- about 20 percent of the 12,000 Texans who use the program. Costs are going up because more people are eligible for help, and because the average annual cost per client has nearly doubled since 1996 to about $9,500.
Thursday's emotional testimony came from infected mothers, siblings of infected persons, and parents of grown children with HIV. Dr. Wayne Bockmon of Montrose Clinic in Houston said the drugs give hope to the 1,000 patients he treats. Those patients are productive members of society who work and pay taxes, he said: "I don't know how to explain to them that their lives cost too much."
At the Capitol, Gov. Rick Perry said the state will prioritize spending to cover a $10 billion shortfall and vowed again not to raise taxes. When asked what he would tell patients who could be cut off from the HIV program, he said, "I think you are making a doomsday scenario out of a piece of information that may or may not be true. We are a long way before the budget is written so I am sure that there will be lots of horror stories," Perry said.
01.16.03; Connie Mabin